Penn Is the Nation’s Sixth Best School for Tech Transfer, Report Finds

The Milken Institute ranked schools according to indicators like “patents issued” and “startups formed.” Here’s why Penn ranks high and where schools like Drexel, Temple and Jefferson landed on the list.
The Pennovation Center. | Photo: © Michael Moran via HWKN

The Pennovation Center. | Photo: © Michael Moran via HWKN

Last week, the Milken Institute, a California think tank, released a new report that ranks more than 200 universities across the country according to “technology transfer,” a school’s ability to turn its research into actual products or research-driven startups.

The report “Concept to Commercialization: The Best Universities for Technology Transfer” ranked the University of Pennsylvania as the sixth best university in the nation for technology transfer, up from 12th in 2006. In other words, Penn does a great job of turning its research into revenue, tangible products and actual jobs.

The research institutions were evaluated through an index of four key indicators: patents issued, licenses issued, licensing income, and startups formed. The report also looked at each institution’s total research funding.

Penn’s indexed score in the study was 95.39, and the school’s consistent performance across all indicators is what contributed to its high placement, the authors wrote. And a recent reorganization at the school streamlined its tech transfer efforts. In 2014, the Penn Center for Innovation consolidated Penn’s technology transfer office and other programs relating to commercialization and startups. 

The study also highlighted the massive amount of research funding Penn has in its coffers. Penn had more than $888 million in research funding in 2015 and $3.6 billion between 2012 and 2015, the report states. Licensing income alone generated $42 million in 2015.

The school’s new Grays Ferry Ave. Pennovation Center also got a shout-out. The report called it a “key part of the 23-acre Pennovation Works research and business park adjacent to the university,” with labs and co-working space for university-related ventures and private-sector firms.

Penn’s effort to partner with industry is also another factor that contributes to its high ranking. The report identified Penn’s cancer therapy research with pharmaceutical firm Novartis in the Novartis-Penn Center for Advanced Cellular Therapeutics on campus, as one such example. And Penn’s leadership stood out for the report’s authors. “President Amy Gutmann places an emphasis on innovation based on interdisciplinary collaboration, following the strong foundation laid by her predecessor Judith Rodin,” the report says.

The Milken Institute also included some convincing ideas on why regional and federal policy makers should care more about tech transfer anyway. According to the think tank, research universities are the main catalysts for knowledge-based growth when it comes to jobs.

“University research and technology transfer to the private sector can provide the competitive advantage that a company needs to create jobs and wage growth,” the researchers wrote. “As new, bi-directional information exchanges open up between academic and industry researchers — as opposed to past linear models — more commercially attuned knowledge exchange is shared, leading to a rise in entrepreneurial success and economic impact.”

The study ranked other Philadelphia institutions, too: Drexel (46), Penn State (81), Temple (99), Thomas Jefferson (129), CHOP (176), and Fox Chase Cancer Center (193).

To narrow the gap between the top 25 institutions and the other institutions on the list, the report recommends that schools maintain basic scientific research funding. The federal government should also incentivize tech transfer through a federal commercialization fund and through a federal matching grant program with states. States should also move public universities to adopt a set of commercialization “best practices” to increase technology transfer efficiency.

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