Positive response to growth

Published Nov 9, 2020

With the phenomenal growth in the number of Victoria University of Wellington research projects being commercialised—including four which were spun out into companies this year alone—Wellington UniVentures recently created a full-time Contracts and Portfolio Manager role, and appointed Julie Crisford to the position.

“We need to be strategic about the way we manage our IP portfolio to ensure we are able to achieve scale, and grow the value of that portfolio,” says Hamish Findlay, Wellington UniVentures’ General Manager—Commercialisation.

Hamish says that the new, full-time role gives them a dedicated resource for helping the Commercialisation team to negotiate new licences and spinout deals—and to continue managing the portfolio of those that have already been completed.

“Wellington UniVentures’ involvement does not finish after we negotiate and broker commercialisation deals on behalf of the University’s researchers,” he says.

“We continue to have numerous obligations to our partners—particularly in the case of licensing deals where we still own the intellectual property (IP)—and they to us. So it’s vital that we remain involved to ensure each project smoothly transitions into a fully functioning business with the best possible outcome.”

Hamish says that having Julie on-board to maintain ongoing relationships with existing partners is also key for another reason. “It’s always easier to win repeat business than to find new business.”

Julie agrees, and says that the other primary advantage is that she frees up Wellington UniVentures’ commercialisation managers to focus on their core responsibilities—i.e. helping the University’s researchers to protect and develop their inventions to become investor-ready, and to define partners for implementation.

“Having my role in place means that once a deal is executed with an external party—or a startup company is formed—the Commercialisation Manager can then pass it on to me to look after,” says Julie. “This frees up their capacity to focus on the next projects and great ideas coming through, allowing them to develop new markets, build new deals and create more value for the University.”

She says it’s important that Commercialisation Managers are able to get each project commercialised and then move on to the next. “This is a critical point—if we don’t get this right, all their hard work developing a project is potentially wasted.”

In terms of negotiating new licences and spinout deals, Julie helps Wellington UniVentures’ commercialisation managers work with external parties to structure relationships and contracts that reflect how researchers wish to proceed with their projects.

“Basically, I specialise in formulating the strategy on how to structure a deal that will get the best result for our licensees or spinout companies.”

In terms of the Portfolio management aspect of her role, Julie says it involves a lot of organising: “I need to make sure we note all our responsibilities in each signed contract, request updates and send invoices at the right time, answer finance queries, and receive shareholder information for our spinout companies.”

And while her job title may be new, Julie is no stranger to the team, having worked for Wellington UniVentures since 2009 when she joined as the IP Manager, responsible for managing the company’s patent portfolio. A qualified patent attorney, Julie first added negotiations and deals to her IP role in 2012, when the company had just one Commercialisation Manager, and she could cover both roles on a part-time basis.

Today, however: “We now have nine Commercialisation Managers working on many different projects, and the volume of work has increased exponentially,” explains Julie. “So the IP Manager role as been separated out into a full-time position (held by Dr Stephanie Grant), and I’ve taken on Contracts and Portfolio management in a full-time capacity.” 

She says going full-time is a great reflection of the amount of research with commercial potential coming out of the University.

“Despite current world circumstances, our researchers are continuing to have positive impact on the world through commercialising their work, and driving revenue and opportunity for Victoria University of Wellington,” Julie says. “I enjoy being part of that process.”