WSU researcher presents startup company at NIH SBIR/STTR Conference.
WSU researcher presents startup company at NIH SBIR/STTR Conference.

In October, Washington hosted the National Institutes of Health Small Business Innovation Research and Small Business Technology Transfer Conference. Washington’s thriving health care innovation sector made this conference a natural fit for Seattle, and a great opportunity for WSU researchers who want to move life-changing innovations into the marketplace.

Twelve researchers from across the WSU campuses and colleges joined us in Seattle to present their work, gain insight into the SBIR/STTR granting process and meet potential industry partners. All of the researchers are working with WSU’s Office of Commercialization on various stages of the technology transfer process – from securing patents to seeking funding for a startup company.

For example, researcher Allison Coffin and her graduate student Phil Uribe are in the early stages of developing a device that could expedite the assessment of drug candidates for preventing sensory cell death that leads to permanent hearing loss. While they are not yet ready to submit an SBIR/STTR application, they wanted to begin learning about the process and meet potential private partners and funders.

“I was able to meet with my SBIR/STTR program officer, and had the most productive 20 minutes I could ask for,” Uribe said. “He directed me to apply for an SBIR, when I had been leaning more toward STTR initially.”

Uribe has plans to meet with the program officer again at a conference for his field in February. At the NIH conference, Uribe also met with Preeti Malik-Kale, a WSU technology licensing associate based in Pullman, giving him face-to-face time to talk about patent protection.

Uribe and Coffin also attended and presented a poster at Life Science Innovation Northwest (LSINW) for the first time in June. LSINW is an annual event in Washington that brings business leaders, researchers and investors in the life sciences sector together. It is a great opportunity to practice pitching research to a business-minded audience, and to start building relationships with people who could be future research partners, startup mentors, or investors.

Allison and Phil network at the LSINW event.
Allison and Phil network at the LSINW event.

“I’ve learned so much about commercialization and small biotech startups in the past 6 months,” Uribe said. “I appreciate everything everyone at the Office of Economic Development does to help connect us to the right people.”

In addition the researchers and OC staff, making connections at events like the NIH conference and LSINW is also beneficial for Small Business Development Center advisors. They can offer assistance on preparing and applying for SBIR/STTR grants, so Michael Franz, the Seattle SBDC advisor who attended the event, got a lot out of the sessions and workshops. He also met program officers, giving him direct contacts to turn to when helping clients with the application process.

Overall, the NIH Conference was a great example of how the units within WSU’s Office of Economic Development work together to maximize WSU’s impact on the regional economy and global grand challenges.