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Spotlight on practice

June 2011

Incubator builds on international partnership

February 2010 marked the beginning of a new international partnership intended to develop relationships between start-up technology businesses in the U.S. and universities in Japan. The SUNY Fredonia Technology Incubator in Dunkirk, N.Y., welcomed a trade mission from KUTLO-NITT, a consortium of 11 technology-focused Japanese universities and two technology licensing centers to launch the KUTLO-NITT Gateway Project.

The project is intended to formalize research and resource exchanges between the two organizations. The SUNY incubator built this link from an established 30-year relationship between faculty leadership in Fredonia and businesses and academics in Japan.

"The longstanding relationship between principals is critical to build business relationships in Asia," says Robert Fritzinger, director of SUNY Fredonia Technology Incubator. "There is an enormous amount of patience and hard work that goes into building these relationships. It is necessary to be very attuned to the cultural nuances for both the Japanese and for the U.S."

The linkage is viewed as a catalyst to support start-up businesses and create jobs in Japan and in the U.S. Both parties signed a Memorandum of Understanding defining the project goal to make it easier to license Japanese technology in the U.S. and vice versa.

The exchange began as SUNY Fredonia welcomed a visiting scholar, Hiroko Sato, a Japanese economist and technology transfer specialist. Sato participated in a four-month training residency where she learned about business incubation in the U.S. SUNY Fredonia benefitted from Sato's expertise in international licensing arrangements and patents.

Information of interest to the Japanese consortium included the day-to-day operation of the university-affiliated technology incubator, the role of grants and contracts in developing and transfering of new technologies, how faculty and private sector entrepreneurs use grants and contracts to support their ventures, and the specifics of SUNY Research Foundation policies and procedures that govern technology transfer and intellectual property.

Sato also worked with entrepreneurs at SUNY Fredonia to help them understand the cultural nuances of Japanese business that will lead to increased product development and licensing and patent agreements. In addition to her work with incubator clients, Sato also created a plan to promote collaboration and research sharing between SUNY campuses and Japanese consortium members.

"Entrepreneurs tend to run very fast into new opportunities and expect immediate results," says Fritzinger. The Fredonia incubator is able create context and help entrepreneurs learn how to approach business in Asia. "Entrepreneurs in the tech sector of the U.S. tend to put the technology first and people second. In actuality, it is the exact opposite," says Fritzinger.

The program continues to develop. Another resident-in-training arrived at the end of September, and there are plans to send individuals from Fredonia to Japan. "The initial candidates will be university representatives, but the opportunities for incubator clients are implicit," says Fritzinger.

In May 2010, the president and CEO of the Niigata Technology Licensing Organization and the president of KUTLO-NITT selected Richard Goodman, the incubator's client relations specialist, to become director of international affairs for KUTLO-NITT. The appointment illustrates the importance of lasting relationships for business development. Goodman has been with SUNY Fredonia for 39 years and has contributed to the university's ongoing connection with Japan.

Goodman describes the process of creating a lasting partnership with Japan as "a flower that opens slowly."—Bridget Lair

Keywords: university partnerships, strategic partnerships, technology commercialization

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