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TMCNet:  Breakthrough ideas for entrepreneurs

[August 06, 2007]

Breakthrough ideas for entrepreneurs

(San Antonio Express-News (KRT) Via Thomson Dialog NewsEdge) Aug. 3--Cory Hallam believes turning university research breakthroughs into commercial successes requires better assistance to students, startups and small businesses.

As director of the Center for Innovation and Technology Entrepreneurship at the University of Texas at San Antonio, Hallam tries to help professors and students profit from their research and to interest small businesses in using the center's services to expand.

The CITE has been in existence only since last December, but the components to this entrepreneurial incubator program are coming together. In the fall semester, the center will kick off a New Technologies Start-Up Competition, Hallam said.

Engineering and business students will form teams and present their best ideas on marketing their technology. Judges will include venture capitalists. But the prize isn't a grade. It's a cash award -- and maybe something more.

"If their idea is good enough, we'll be there to help them start a company," he said.

Hallam, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology graduate who came to UTSA from the aerospace industry, said Texas universities "are strong on research, but not on spinning off startup businesses from that research." The CITE's startup funding came from the deans of the schools of engineering and business administration. The center is integrating senior undergraduates and graduate students from both schools to combine research with business planning.

Weno Healthcare Co. is one of a few local startups that Hallam tapped to try some of the ideas he hopes someday will make CITE a major economic engine for the university and the community.

Tina Johnson, Weno's president, devised a Web site that provides an efficient and secure way for patients to communicate with doctors. Because of strict federal mandates on the privacy of patient information, secure Internet mail is essential to the health industry.

Students working with Hallam spent part of their summer finding ways to help Johnson grow her fledgling business. Her dream is to have her concept become the Web format of choice for every industry that wants secured, spam-proof Internet communication.

A student completing an MBA in finance is building a business plan for a "Weno Legal" Web site, and an IT student is helping with "scalability," Johnson said.

Federico Balbi, pursuing a master's degree in technology management, is using Weno Healthcare as the model for his thesis."We look at the cost she has on the IT side, how she can improve her customer base and find new markets," Balbi said.

Balbi examined Johnson's customer base and its growth trend to advise her on when she should add server space and by how much.

He also scouted her competition to suggest ideas she might incorporate to add value to her services.

The University of Texas System's Technology Transfer office is responsible for the licensing of all devices developed on UT campuses, Hallam said. This ensures royalties to the university in the event a product is commercially applied.

"A Technology Transfer office typically just has patents," he said. "Now these devices will have a patent and a business plan, and that's a lot easier to sell." Hallam said all of these ideas are still kind of radical among universities, which usually train people to work for other people. He wants to reverse that through technological entrepreneurship.

"My goal is that within a decade, we'll be on the cover of Fortune 500," Hallam said. "And the headline will read: 'How does UTSA do it?' "

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