Advice for Academics Looking to Commercialize: ‘Don’t Go it Alone’

Pittsburgh Health Data Alliance event highlights resources available to entrepreneurs and ways the Alliance fosters the local tech community.

Pittsburgh’s two major research universities, Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Pittsburgh, are full of talented scientists and students who are developing technology that could have a major impact on the healthcare market.

But the skills that make world-class researchers don’t always transfer easily to the commercial realm, said Joe Marks, PhD, executive director of CMU’s Center for Machine Learning and Health. That skill gap is one of the reasons CMU, Pitt, and UPMC formed the Pittsburgh Health Data Alliance (PHDA).


“You’re taking people who are world class, who’ve spent an entire career developing a set of skills for an academic setting, and then telling them they need to go back to boot camp if they want to launch a start-up,” Dr. Marks said during an April 19 panel discussion sponsored by the PHDA as a part of Pittsburgh Life Sciences Week.

At the PHDA panel discussion, titled “From the bench to the playing field: The journey from idea to commercialization,” six leaders, investigators, and scientists from the three PHDA institutions talked about the biggest challenges in securing funding to the steps necessary to successfully spin out and commercialize.

In addition to Dr. Marks, the panel featured Don Taylor, PhD, co-director of Pitt’s Center for Commercial Applications of Healthcare Data; Jeffrey Depp, technology commercialization associate at the Innovation Institute at Pitt; Carl Kingsford, PhD, from the Center for Machine Learning and Health at CMU; and Rebecca Jacobson, MD, vice president of analytics at UPMC Enterprises. The panel was moderated by Rob Hartman, PhD, senior manager of business development at UPMC Enterprises.

Formed in 2015, the PHDA is a one-of-a-kind alliance committed to advancing technology and creating data-heavy healthcare innovations, spinning off companies, and furthering economic development in the Pittsburgh region

The PHDA and its partners have resources that can help academics manage the commercialization process and avoid mistakes, Depp said. The Innovation Institute at Pitt, for instance, offers help with submitting invention disclosures and finding early funding.

“You have resources; there’s no reason to go it alone,” Depp said.

The panel discussion provided a solid overview of the challenges and opportunities for researchers and academics interested in commercializing their ideas. To learn more about upcoming Life Sciences Week events, visit the website.