Putting UW Startup Dreams on Hold: Entrepreneur Advises Researchers to Nurture Ideas More

4/9/09Follow @xconomy

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still need to be answered about some of these applications, and when they are, this technology could lead to several companies pursuing multiple applications, Eichinger says.

—Another idea he cited came from an otolaryngologist at UW who developed technology that could zero in on a specific person’s voice, screening out all surrounding background noise after 20 seconds. The researcher’s first thought was to apply this toward hearing aids. But a far bigger business opportunity, one the researcher hadn’t fully grasped, is to adapt the technology for use in cell phones (we’ve all had the problem of talking to someone while walking down a noisy street) and license it to some of the giants of that field. “What if the next application is even more valuable than the first? The investors in the startup company may not want to license it,” even if that means it likely won’t get developed as quickly, Eichinger says.

—One last example comes from technology developed with Boeing for the new 787 Dreamliner that makes it possible to do away with window shades on planes and allows people to lighten or darken windows with a manual dial. One other obvious application of this technology, with a little more fundamental work, would be to put a dial on eyeglasses to make them lighten or darken with the spin of a wheel, he says.

“Our job is to find ways to marry the technology to real world, commercializable problems,” Eichinger says. Of course, faculty who invent things don’t necessarily think of commercial applications. “They need to think about their teaching and research. They’d rather write a grant than a patent,” he says.

Eichinger is imparting his advice on a volunteer basis, and says he wants to make sure the UW doesn’t waste a lot of its potential. “If I was being selfish and greedy, I’d try to grab these things and run with them as fast as I can,” he says. “I really see myself as a fiduciary of the UW, and would like to say ‘let’s develop these things a little more internally, understand the potential of them a little more,’ and then let’s license it out when the time is right.”

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