Technium Crunches Big Data to Match Entrepreneurs with Researchers
Dallas—Universities and other institutions are chock-full of intellectual property, but it can be difficult for entrepreneurs, interested in turning those ideas into products, to find what they’re looking for.
Now, a Dallas-based firm called Technium has launched an online matchmaking service of sorts to connect “entrepreneurs with the inventors,” says Jonathan Van, Technium’s co-founder. “I know that sounds relatively simple,” he adds. “But everything around that transaction can be rather complex. Our software can help [founders] find innovation in places where no one else would ever look.”
Technium has built a database of patents and what Van calls “scout software” that does a qualitative analysis on what a customer is looking for. Then a cohort of scientists that Technium has hired as contractors go in and further assess the list of patents produced by the data analytics. The idea is to help entrepreneurs who are “looking for X” and wondering who they should be connected to working on this type of innovation, Van explains.
For example, Van points to one customer, Rick Hawkins, a serial biotech entrepreneur in Austin interested in innovative therapies for opioid addiction for his latest company, called Mu Therapeutics. “We found a patent from a hospital in Mexico,” Van says, “in a place that no one else would look.”
For its matchmaking services, Technium takes an equity stake in the new venture; it also gives the scientist “scout” who flagged a successful patent a stake as well. “If they make a personal introduction, we give them a larger percentage. They just have to disclose the relationship,” he says. “We can incentivize people to do what they naturally do, and then share on the upside.”
Given that many new ventures fail, and those that succeed don’t do so right away, Van says Technium is paying its day-to-day bills by offering consulting services, doing what he calls “situational awareness.”
“We look at what are the top 10 patents [the university] should be working on to sponsor venture creation,” Van says. “These are the kinds of scientists you could build a lab around. Sometimes, they need help finding who those people are.”
The University of Nevada Las Vegas is a customer, and Technium is doing test cases with some corporate innovation groups, Van says. Additionally, law firm Ballard Spahr has signed on as a strategic partner and has invested $75,000 in Technium.
Van says the idea to form Technium came from his days at the University of Texas at Austin, where he worked with the entrepreneur-in-residence at the McCombs School of Business and as a founder of the UT Discovery Fund. “I experienced how rough that process can be,” he says, referring to the process of commercializing institutional patents. By the time an entrepreneur hit the 100-day mark, he says, deals would often fall through.
“That’s the ideal timeframe any entrepreneur wants to get a deal done,” he says. “Corporate partners get tired; something else comes up.”
Universities and related institutions seek to better leverage their faculty and student research. UT, for example, has student accelerators and other programs to promote commercialization and, this year, opened up a “Foundry” program in the College of Fine Arts to promote collaboration between the arts and sciences.
Still, private sector executives say they often find the process of startup formation working with university intellectual property to be opaque and cumbersome. To try to recapture the opportunity of a few potential Googles, Van says firms like Dominion Harbor have stepped in to try to make those interactions blossom into meaningful relationships. “None of them focus on new venture creation,” he says. “It’s just pure licensing.”
Going forward, Van says, Technium wants to mine data sources beyond patents to include scientific papers and the like. “We want to start targeting people, the important scientists you need on your team,” he says. “The patents are a proxy for the right people.”