Grad Students Advised in Biotech Start-Ups

At a workshop last week, University officials—including representatives from the Provost’s office—counseled graduate students on the process of starting their own biotechnology companies with Harvard-patented technology.

More than 150 people attended Friday’s program, which was also meant to correct a misperception that “Harvard doesn’t do start-ups,” said Ken Levin, the senior licensing manager of the Medical School’s Office for Technology and Trademark Licensing (OTTL).

“There is a tremendous amount of interest in participation in starting a Harvard [owned] technology based company among graduate students,” he said.

The workshop was held in Science Center B, and featured three panels whose members primarily consisted of those currently involved in what panelist Debra Peattie called the “business of science.”

Joyce Brinton, director of the OTTL, opened the workshop with a presentation on obtaining a license to market Harvard-owned technology.


While the panelists spoke optimistically about the possibilities of using Harvard’s intellectual property, one professor who recalled his own start-up experience warned that differences between the academic and business worlds can be jarring.

“We were a bunch of academics who thought we knew what we were doing, but we really didn’t,” said David A. Edwards, McKay professor of the practice of biomedical engineering.

In addition to discussing the differences between academia and industry, panelists also addressed the need to prevent conflicts of interest.

In her opening presentation, Brinton said these conflicts must be fully explored before obtaining a license to market Harvard-owned technology.

Levin echoed that sentiment at the reception.

“The interests of the University are not always entirely consistent with the interests of a company,” he said.

Graduate students who attended the workshop said they found the panels helpful.

“I think [the workshop] was great because I don’t think I would have visited the [office] myself,” said Chandran Sabanayagam, a post-doctorate fellow at the Harvard-affiliated Roland Institute, who said he is considering starting a company.

“It should be held annually for all the new graduate’s important to give young scientists an option between staying with academics or going with industry,” he said.

In addition to OTTL, the workshop was sponsored by the Office of the Provost and the Harvard Medical School Office for Technology Licensing.