There’s a new man at Princeton who can help get great ideas from the laboratory to the marketplace: Brad Middlekauff, a biotech executive, is the first ever “Executive in Residence” at the university’s Office of Technology Licensing.
A lawyer and 23-year veteran of the biotech industry, Middlekauff has spent his career helping companies develop commercial products from ideas that were hatched at university research labs throughout the country. Middlekauff’s first day as a part-time consultant at Princeton was October 6. He says his door is open for professors and graduate students who are interested in starting their own companies, and to business people who are interested in working with university researchers.
Middlekauff’s job is to serve as a liaison between the business world and researchers. His post is needed because many of the ideas used by tech companies actually originate from researchers at universities, especially in the pharmaceutical business. “It is extremely common in the world of life science companies, from startups through midsize companies through large companies, to obtain at least some of the company’s technologies from universities and university labs,” he explained. “Applied research forms the backbone of a great deal of what is actually discovered, developed, and commercialized.”
There are two main ways for research to become commercialized: either the researcher licenses the technology to an existing company, or starts his own. Sometimes, companies might support lab work in return for licensing any intellectual property that is produced.
Middlekauff says he is mostly focusing on helping researchers start their own companies. A big part of his job will be helping researchers decide if their work is commercially viable. “Not all research is of a nature where it would make sense to form a new company or even to license it to an existing company,” he says. “There is all kinds of interesting research that just doesn’t have commercial applications at this point, where it wouldn’t make sense for an investor to form a company. The challenge is figuring out which is which.”
Middlekauff’s background has prepared him for that challenge. He grew up in Cincinnati, where his father was a product development engineer for Procter and Gamble. Middlekauff earned a political science degree at Brown University and a law degree at Yale. While most of his law school classmates envisioned themselves arguing cases before a judge, Middlekauff mapped a future helping companies bring products to market. He put that idea to work immediately after graduating in 1993, going to work for a corporate law firm in Palo Alto, California.
In 1998 he joined Neptune-based Algos Pharmaceutical Group as general counsel and vice president of business development and worked there until 2000, when he went to work for Medarex in Princeton, which was using technology licensed from Drexel. Middlekauff’s most recent corporate job was as chief legal officer for Kolltan Pharmaceuticals in New Haven, Connecticut, a company founded to use technology developed at Yale.
Middlekauff says the most important advice he has for anyone looking to found a tech company would be to think carefully about intellectual property and make sure it’s a viable business idea.
What problem does it solve? Middlekauff says any tech product must identify a problem that potential customers have, and be a good way of solving that problem. “Think about the one-minute elevator speech,” Middlekauff says. “You are going to have to explain this to potential investors and potential collaborators.”
Get advice. “It really makes sense to get business advice early on,” Middlekauff says. “You want to make sure you’re protecting your intellectual property and that the business opportunity is there. Investors are going to want to understand how they are going to get return on investment.”
Partner up. “The first thing you want to do is engage in discussions with a business-savvy individual. At some point, it might make sense to formalize that into some sort of entity that can move forward to developing the technology. That can take a whole number of different forms, including a corporation with a couple of initial stockholders.” Other options include hiring someone to be a business advisor. One way or another, a new company needs to set up a framework that will reward everyone for the work they put into the company and the value they are adding.
Figure out the path forward. “You have to plan how you are going to get from here to the promised land of product development and commercialization,” he says. “Of course plans change as development work goes on, but you need a preliminary plan to get from point A to point B.”
Common mistakes that Middlekauff sees include not adequately protecting intellectual property from day one. Second to that is not having a business plan.
Of course, the specific advice Middlekauff would offer changes based on circumstances. Delivering that personalized advice is now his job.
That advice is especially critical for researchers who know their fields of study very well but who lack experience in business. “Scientists and researchers really run the gamut,” he says. “Some of them have a fair amount of business experience, and some of them have been involved in startup companies. Some are fantastic scientists but don’t have the experience or the sophistication associated with what’s needed to start up a company or just to commercialize technology.”
The Office of Technology and Licensing is located at 87 Prospect Avenue on the third floor. Office hours are Monday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. and Wednesday from 1 to 5 p.m., although Middlekauff says he can make appointments outside of those times. For information, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.