Not long after your 50th birthday, you turn on the television and realize that you can barely make out the actors’ faces. You have joined the 30 million people worldwide who suffer from age-related macular degeneration (AMD), an increasingly common disease affecting adults ages fifty and older. But don’t be alarmedâ€”this disease won’t be a threat much longer, thanks to a new technology developed at Texas A&M University.
As a member of the Texas A&M University’s Center for New Ventures and Entrepreneurship executive committee, Phil Ralston judges the Technology Transfer Challenge at Mays Business School each year, exploring the latest innovations through presentations made by teams of Mays MBA students. The 2009 event, which recently concluded, challenged students to screen and evaluate new technologies to determine their commercial potential and present their findings to judges. It’s a chance for students to hone their valuation and presentation skills through competition, and a chance for inventors to get noticed.
At the 2006 Tech Transfer Challenge, the first place team introduced Ralston to the technology MC 1101. This product was developed by Dr. George Chiou, a professor of neuroscience and experimental therapeutics at Texas A&M, to treat and prevent dry-AMD, the most common form of the sight-eliminating disease. Dry-AMD breaks down the central portion of the retina, eliminating the vision used when reading, watching TV, and driving.
Ralston saw the potential of MC 1101. With an extensive background in pharmaceuticals and business start-ups, he was the ideal candidate for leading a company focused on commercializing this technology. A few weeks after the competition, Ralston was asked to head up the newly formed company that would market MC 1101, and upon his acceptance of the position, MacuCLEAR was born. Three years later, Ralston is preparing MacuCLEAR to enter clinical trials for its product, hoping to build on the $3.5 million value that the company has already reached.
MacuCLEAR is just one example of a Mays Tech Transfer Challenge technology that has gone on to experience industry success. Each year, viable products leave the challenge to become more than the subject of a learning exercise for MBA students. Ralston remarked that at least three of the technologies introduced at the 2009 event had commercial potential. “The process of the Tech Transfer Challenge is a way of uncovering diamonds in the rough, of creating products and organizations that can lead to great commercial success,” he added.
After a week of intense research, the 2009 Tech Transfer Challenge culminated on February 19, when the student-led teams displayed their product knowledge for more than 100 businesspeople from across Texas who volunteered as judges. Diana Doughty, Jennifer Baugh, Christopher Beavers, Brian Mullins, and Luis Trejo took first prize for their presentation “The Use of Dimples for Thermal Dissipation Enhancement for Microelectronic Heat Sinks.” Their hard work was rewarded, as the first place team was presented with a check for $3,000 from the CNVE and event sponsor Ford. Paragon Innovations sponsored the second place prize of $2,000.
“The process of the Tech Transfer Challenge is a way of uncovering diamonds in the rough, of creating products and organizations that can lead to great commercial success.”
Participation in the challenge is part of the first-year MBA curriculum. While students are allowed to choose their teammates, the technology is assigned randomly. Presentations are not judged on the merits of the technology, but rather the students’ effectiveness at demonstrating its marketability. The depth of their research (which includes market analysis, potential barriers to market entry, and competition), as well as their presentation skills and evidence of product knowledge during the Q&A with judges determines the winners.
Ninety students participated in the 2009 challenge, presenting 18 technologies from within the A&M system.
“Tech Transfer gives current MBA students a chance to apply classroom theory, reach out to industry experts, and polish presentation skills in assessing the market viability of the Texas A&M technology,” said first-place winner Doughty. “The week is an exercise in team building, networking, and overcoming unforeseen obstacles as much as it is about research and actually coming up with an answer.”
Second place went to Mohammed Mazi, Sachit Dwivedi, Katia Delgado, James Applewhite, and Allen Wright for their work with the endotracheal tube sump. Karn Nopany, Jeff Kenner, Kathleen Sui, Julius “A.J.” Oben, and Vince Castro placed third with their wireless event monitoring device.