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Optical Design & Engineering

Idea incubators on U.S. campuses

New York Times
25 June 2010

A handful of universities in the United States, including M.I.T. and the University of California, San Diego, are in the vanguard of a movement in academia that works closely with investors to ensure that promising ideas are nurtured and turned into successful startups.

At first glance, the centers look like academic versions of business incubators. But universities are getting involved now at a much earlier stage than incubators typically do. Rather than offering seed money to businesses that already have a product and a staff, as incubators usually do, the universities are harvesting great ideas and then trying to find investors and businesspeople interested in developing them further and exploring their commercial viability.

The locations of such matchmaking are known as "proof-of-concept centers," and they're among a number of new approaches to commercializing university research in more efficient and purposeful ways - and to preventing good ideas from dying quietly.

Different from technology transfer offices that introduce businesses and investors to patented university research and help schools strike licensing deals, these new centers have the backing of the Obama administration which has proposed allocating $12 million among several institutions next year for proof-of-concept centers. If successful, supporters say, universities could spread the model faster.

New York Times