For our 10th anniversary, we interviewed Jennifer Barton of the BIO5 Institute. We're grateful to Jennifer and her work as a researcher, inventor, and advocate for commercialization, and she reflects on all three in this interview.
"Tech Launch Arizona has been revolutionary in the way that we think of bringing our devices to market, to translating them," she says. "I am really indebted to Tech Launch, both as the director of the BIO5 Institute and as a faculty member, for helping us know that when we have great ideas, they don't have to end at the lab – that we can have an opportunity to bring them out into the marketplace."
Tech Launch Arizona has been revolutionary in the way that we think of bringing our devices to market, to translating them. I am really indebted to Tech Launch, both as the director of the BIO5 Institute and as a faculty member, for helping us know that when we have great ideas, they don't have to end at the lab – that we can have an opportunity to bring them out into the marketplace, either to have them be commercialized by somebody else that we licensed to or even if we want to have a startup ourselves – that they can have a life. They can get out there in the marketplace – which is actually where they need to be – so that they can help people.
It's been really exciting to work with Tech Launch on my inventions. So far I was very excited to get my first (patent) medallion a couple of months ago. I'm working on building a miniature device that goes into the fallopian tubes and can detect the early signs of ovarian cancer. I've been working on this for quite some time. I think in the past I was a typical faculty member. I didn't think much about doing things beyond writing papers and getting grants. But you have to get your devices out there being successful in the marketplace if you really want to help people. So tech launch Arizona helped me understand what the invention was and what the process was. I have to admit: it was a bit scary to think of going through all that work. But tech launch Arizona was there every step of the way, helping to fill out the disclosure and the provisional patent, and eventually the full patent application, and now looking for partners who can potentially license it from us. That's been great.
I think nowadays I tell faculty: just talk to Tech Launch. They're great people. They'll tell you whether you have an invention there or maybe you don't, or you know, whether it's time to go forward or not. There's no great fear there. You just go in and you talk to a really wonderful, knowledgeable person who will take you seriously, whether you're a faculty member who's been at the university for 30 years or whether you're a graduate student with an idea.
That's been transformational – the idea that this is just part of the process. This is just part of being a faculty member.
Most people don't know whether they have an invention. Lots of times we support people and they're like, “Well this isn't a surgical device or this isn't a new drug, so this can't be an invention.” And then we'll say, “Well, sorry, that's part of the requirements. You got seed funding, so we want you to talk to Tech Launch.” And they'll come back and they'll say, “You know what? I have an invention and I didn't know it!”
So lots of times, that's been a way of helping people understand not only what they're working on now, but what they're working on in the future.
My message to all the faculty and students is to think about why you're doing what you do. You go into the lab, you love to make discoveries. That's very exciting. You want to get the word out to all your colleagues. But it needs to go beyond that as well. Even if you're doing the very basic science, you know that eventually, you want to do something that's going to change the world, that's really going to help people. That's the mission of BIO5 and that's what Tech Launch does. They help you take your discoveries and turn them into products and services and companies and ideas that can actually change the world and help people.