Bridging the Gap: The Role of Tech Transfer in Advancing Innovation

Tech transfer, is the process of translating discoveries and inventions from research environments into marketable products or services.


In the ever-evolving landscape of innovation, the transfer of technology from research institutions to the commercial sector plays a pivotal role in bridging the gap between groundbreaking ideas and real-world applications. OneValley recently hosted a tech transfer-focused fireside chat and pitch event, shedding light on the world of tech transfer startups and accelerators. Distinguished judges shared their insights, and in this blog, we explore the significance of tech transfer, its challenges, the transformative impact it has on innovation, and highlight key takeaways from the discussion.  

Check out the entire event here, or read about the key takeaways below:


The Essence of Tech Transfer

Tech transfer, short for technology transfer, is the process of translating discoveries and inventions from research environments, such as universities, laboratories, and scientific institutions, into practical and marketable products or services. It serves as the conduit through which the fruits of academic and scientific research are harnessed for the betterment of society. This process is vital in fostering innovation because it ensures that cutting-edge research reaches the hands of entrepreneurs, businesses, and industries capable of transforming it into tangible solutions.

The Judges

The panel of judges brought a diverse and experienced perspective to the world of technology transfer and innovation. 

Juan Scarlet - Managing Director of OneValley Ventures. Juan Scarlet leads OneValley Ventures, focused on venture investment strategies within the broader OneValley ecosystem. They launched the OneValley Fund in late 2021, a venture capital fund supporting pre-seed and seed-stage startups, emphasizing digital transformation and advanced technologies like AI and machine learning.

Sedale Turbovsky - CEO and Co-founder of Open Grants. Sedale Turbovsky has extensive experience in managing technology transfer practices and oversees a $6 billion portfolio. Open Grants is dedicated to providing transparent, equitable, and efficient grant funding, particularly crucial for emerging tech transfer companies.

Conrad Holloman - Director of Government Programs at The Engine. Conrad Holloman is a key figure at The Engine, a public benefit corporation spun out of MIT. They focus on commercializing challenging technology ventures in science and engineering. Conrad specializes in forming public-private partnerships and guiding startups through regulated market entry strategies.

Together, this panel exemplified a holistic approach to advancing innovation by supporting tech transfer startups, whether through venture investment, grant funding, or supporting challenging tech ventures, they are all dedicated to driving forward innovation and technology commercialization, and shared critical insights.


Key Insight #1: Tech transfer startups face unique challenges

Tech transfer startups differ substantially from traditional startups, and understanding these distinctions is crucial for comprehending their challenges and potential. Tech transfer startups focus on innovations originating from research institutions. They face complexities in engaging with heavily regulated industries, government agencies, and multiple stakeholders. The innovation process is protracted due to extensive testing and regulatory approvals, and they often involve collaborations with researchers from the originating institutions. These intricacies make tech transfer startups distinctively challenging but promising hubs of innovation.

Traditional startups, on the other hand, build from scratch with clear business ideas. They are marked by simpler challenges, shorter iteration times, and fewer stakeholders, typically composed of a founding team or a small group of entrepreneurs. These startups are characterized by swift adaptability and straightforward paths to market.

The tech transfer space attracts solutions that solve real-world problems but are only relevant to hard-to-engage stakeholder groups. Picture having to navigate, infrastructure, legislation, utilities and governments before scaling or selling your technology. Grant funding bridges that gap; there is a big difference between building a dating app and deploying groundbreaking research IP technology.


Key Insight #2:  Tech transfer ecosystems require both financial support and a collaborative, interdisciplinary approach to succeed

Two fundamental challenges hinder the growth of effective tech transfer ecosystems:

  1. Access to Risk Capital: Tech transfer startups frequently require significant capital, but investors may be cautious due to uncertainties and prolonged timelines. Unlocking existing capital involves creating incentives for early-stage investments, fostering a culture of innovation, and encouraging risk-taking among investors.
  2. Cultural Barriers: Collaboration barriers exist between research institutions, tech transfer offices, and business schools. Encouraging interdisciplinary collaboration and partnerships among these entities is critical in bridging the divide between academic research and entrepreneurship.

“We worked a lot with entrepreneurial ecosystems throughout the country. And I will tell you; it doesn't matter what state I went to, there's always capital, alright, there's always money in the banana stand, okay? But the challenge I saw frequently is that the appetite for risk is a whole other thing.”


Key Insight #3: Grants and Public-Private Partnerships are Crucial for Success

Grants and public-private partnerships are essential in supporting tech transfer and fostering innovation:

  1. Grants in Tech Transfer: Grants provide early-stage funding for research, development, and initial technology validation. Public support, in the form of grants, is crucial for navigating complex regulatory landscapes and gaining access to resources, facilities, and expertise.
  2. Public-Private Partnerships: These collaborations create an ecosystem that supports tech transfer startups. Governments, research institutions, and private entities work together to streamline the transition of innovative technologies into the market. They provide startups with resources and regulatory guidance, facilitating the commercialization of deep tech innovations.

“The iteration time for the technology is much, much longer than it is in software because you're dealing with innovations that are affecting the physical world, innovations in physics, innovations in materials science and innovations in biology where it is not as straightforward as it is to update software and iterate extremely rapidly.”



Tech transfer serves as a critical bridge between academia, research, and industry, advancing innovation by converting theoretical knowledge into tangible solutions. The distinct challenges faced by tech transfer startups underscore the importance of nurturing a supportive ecosystem that encourages risk-taking and interdisciplinary collaboration. As we move forward in the pursuit of innovation, tech transfer continues to play an integral role in addressing complex global challenges and driving positive change, making it a catalyst for the advancement of innovation.

“That's amazing. Well, there's always IP in the banana stand, you guys, and it's there to help the world be a better place.”


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