What's New at 722

From the Desk of...  Michael P. Straightiff

February 2018

February 2018

The mission of the UVA Licensing & Ventures Group begins with the sentiment, ‘to maximize the impact of innovation assets via commercialization.’ At UVA, the process starts well before any financial gains are in sight, as the intellectual property assets created in a university environment are often early stage. We take a customized approach to managing each case and have a dedicated licensing team with the expertise to translate scientific discoveries into possible business opportunities.

LVG has made a dedicated effort to expand its business development resources. Our team is leveraging their networks to generate prospects to bring UVA research faculty members to the table with entrepreneurs, investors, and community members to make connections that could drive the idea forward.

In this issue of What’s New at 722, we illustrate the licensing process to show how an intellectual property asset moves from an idea born of UVA research through to a new venture or license agreement. We celebrate Dr. Jeff Elias, the 2018 Innovator of the Year, welcome Carleen Bowers, the latest addition to the LVG team, and hear from Bob Creeden about the importance of building an advisory board.

We invite you all to join us on Tuesday, February 27 from 3:30-5:00 p.m. at the Rotunda to honor Dr. Elias and listen to his experience of bringing a concept from idea to life-changing procedure at the University of Virginia.

2018 Innovator of the Year

Congratulations Dr. Jeff Elias!

The University of Virginia 2018 Innovator of the Year Pioneers Treatment of Essential Tremor Using Focused Ultrasound Technology

UVA Licensing & Ventures Group recognizes UVA neurosurgeon for innovative patient treatment

Charlottesville, VA – The University of Virginia Licensing & Ventures Group (LVG) has named W. Jeffrey Elias, MD, the 2018 Edlich-Henderson Innovator of the Year, an award given to University faculty members whose research is making a major impact on society. Elias is recognized for pioneering the use of focused ultrasound to treat essential tremor, and for leading the clinical trial that resulted in Food and Drug Administration approval of the approach to treat the condition.

“The selection committee believes Dr. Jeff Elias embodies this award for advancing the focused ultrasound technology for the treatment of essential tremor,” said George Gillies, Ph.D., 2006 Innovator of the Year and member of the 2018 selection committee. “Innovative clinical partners like Dr. Elias, who spearheaded the collaboration with Insightec, the UVA Health System, the Focused Ultrasound Foundation, and other clinical sites, are critical for driving patient impact.” 

Jeffrey Elias, MD, Professor of Neurological Surgery and Neurology at UVA School of Medicine, has led several clinical trials using focused ultrasound technology as a high-tech and incision-free alternative to brain surgery. The first clinical trial in 2011 saw incredible results for patients with essential tremor, a condition that afflicts an estimated 10 million Americans. The success of the first trial ignited further clinical research on focused ultrasound at UVA and opened a new discussion in the field of neurological surgery around the treatment of movement disorders.

Essential tremor can compromise basic life skills, making anything that requires a steady hand impossible for patients with the condition. The focused ultrasound treatment that Elias has moved from clinical trial to FDA approval at a remarkable rate can have immediate life-changing results for candidates eligible for the procedure.

“We saw an overwhelming interest from patients with essential tremor after the success of the first clinical trial, which became the driving force behind furthering our research around this technology at UVA,” said Elias. “This project requires a multidisciplinary effort among professionals in imaging, engineering, neuroscience, and clinical neurosurgeons, to bring this treatment option to patients who are truly suffering. The resources and support we continue to receive from the University of Virginia are essential for the development of this idea.”

The technology allows for a highly precise treatment without incision using focused sound waves within the brain to create heat that interrupts malfunctioning circuits responsible for the tremor symptoms. Using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), clinicians like Elias can monitor the procedure in real time and adjust the treatment based on the patient response.

“We are pleased to honor Dr. Jeff Elias as the 2018 Innovator of the Year. His understanding of focused ultrasound technology and its adaptation for the treatment of essential tremor have made a remarkable impact not only for his patients but on the field of neurosurgery,” said Michael Straightiff, Executive Director of LVG. “Elias is leading the way for innovative clinicians in translational research at UVA, and we are thrilled to recognize his accomplishments with this award.”

Dr. Elias will be honored on Tuesday, February 27 at the Innovator of the Year award ceremony. He will give a public lecture highlighting his research from 3:30-5:00 p.m. in the Dome Room of the Rotunda. All UVA faculty, staff, and students are invited to attend.

Save The Date

Join LVG in honoring Dr. Elias at the 2018 Innovator of the Year Award Ceremony

Innovator of the Year Award Ceremony 

Tuesday, February 27, 2018
3:30-5:00 p.m. 
Rotunda Dome Room

All UVA faculty, staff, and students are welcome to attend

Welcome New LVG Team Member

Carleen Bowers, Ph.D., Venture Associate

Why Every Entrepreneur Should Have an Advisory Board

Bob Creeden, Managing Director of the UVA Seed Fund & New Ventures

We often see early entrepreneurs relying on an informal network of advisors instead of setting up a formal advisory board, but an advisory board is an invaluable tool that every entrepreneur should have from the inception of the business. There are about as many reasons that you should have an advisory board as there are excuses for not setting one up, but here are the reasons we think are most relevant to the high-growth, investor oriented, early-stage start-ups we see here at the UVA LVG Seed Fund.

You need people who will CHALLENGE YOU AND THE MODEL

In the early stages of a start-up, an entrepreneurs trusted advisors are likely to be people they already know – maybe even your friends, family, teachers.  This pre-established personal relationship can jeopardize the frankness of these advisors.  Entrepreneurs are known to get so excited about their ideas that they charge forward with a single-minded focus which can be both good and bad. The bad is that this may stop the entrepreneur from asking for advice, and if your advisors are close to you, it can also stop them from giving the advice for fear they will damage the relationship with the entrepreneur.

But, at this stage – maybe more so than at any other – an entrepreneur needs someone who will tell the truth without sugar coating it.  You need advisors that feel comfortable giving you tough advice when it is warranted.  You need honest feedback about the strategies and tactics you are implementing.

Formalizing the relationship will help establish in the advisor’s mind that this is something they should be actively working on, not just thinking about when you come to them with a problem. Put together an agreement that outlines their role, your expectations and how you are going to compensate them.  Hold them accountable just as they will hold you accountable.  This will make it clear that this is a business relationship, not a personal one and will make sure each of you keep your eyes on the goals and objectives of the company.

In addition, you need regular meetings so that you can sit down and digest things with your board. Consistency is key, and knowing that you will have a regular meeting will remind you about what you're supposed to be working on, allow you to evaluate their advice with the benefit of hindsight, and prompt you to bring them new ideas and challenges. By sitting down with your advisors on a consistent schedule and as a group, they will be able to engage with one another and challenge not just your ideas, but the group’s ideas, something that does not happen when you just call up one person at a time.  Think of the value of leveraging multiple smart, experienced minds in the room at one time versus just one on one!

It is easier (and cheaper) than you think

Establishing an advisory board doesn't have to cost much but you should pay for the experience and network.  Giving equity – as options that will vest - is the most common form of payment and this makes the advisor a partner. They gain only when the company succeeds. Goals are aligned.

How much depends on a number of factors - your desire to have the person involved, his/her experience and most importantly their role going forward.  What will they do for the company? How critical are they to achieving that next milestone? What level do they feel motivated?  In my experience, option/equity awards are all over the place but have commonly been in the range of one quarter of one percent to one half of one percent. 

I would advise against paying cash for an advisor.  Certainly reimburse expenses – pre-approved by you – but I have found paying cash makes the advisor a vendor versus a partner which may not be as productive.

The goal is simply to get people you trust, respect and have the skills you need to grow your business. Make sure they are actively and consistently involved in your decision making process – use them, their experience and network to help move the company forward. Setting up a board might sound like a headache, but a recurring meeting with a few trusted advisors every few weeks may be enough to help keep you on track.

Credibility, Experience, Connections

A seasoned board will lend their credibility to your enterprise. After all, if these sophisticated people are willing to spend their time and energy advising you, it shows that they have confidence in you and your company.  And, if you have your heart set on getting investors, having a board will not only show that you've found influential people who back you, it will also give you credibility as a serious business person who understands the value of good advice - this can be especially valuable to entrepreneurs who don't have prior business experience.

Your board members will have the benefit of past experiences -they've been through this before and will be able to tell you why what they did worked or didn't work and what they would have done differently.  Identify what you need in order to achieve that next milestone that brings about a value inflection point.  Then select board members who bring those skills and experiences that address these challenges and needs so that their experiences/knowledge can help you to overcome those issues and move the company ahead avoiding costly mistakes.  Use their experience, and learn from their missteps instead of learning them on your own.  

A well-chosen board can also help you get funding.  It is difficult to raise funding in today’s environment and connections are more important than ever to get you in front of investors.  Asking someone to be on your board is a great way to get them to later introduce you to investors they may know - though you should be sure not to make them feel like you expect this.  Moreover, if they've raised money before or are investors themselves, they will know what investors are looking for and will be able to help guide you through this process - they might even invest!  On this note, an area where experienced entrepreneurs can really help unseasoned entrepreneurs is with pitching to potential investors, they can help you design your pitch for your audience and then you can present it to them for critique.

Accountability and Encouragement

Regular meetings will force you to be prepared and make sure that you're working toward your goals because your board will hold you accountable if you don't.  One reason that early entrepreneurs avoid forming a board is because they don't want the accountability- after all, they decided to create their own company so that they wouldn't have to answer to anyone but themselves. Problem is that often they find themselves running in circles because they are unsure of what next steps to take.  A  board will help keep you on track- they aren't going to waste their time sitting down with you every few weeks if you come to every meeting explaining how you haven't hit your goals because you spent your time researching and re-researching the same problem you spoke with them about last time.  Accountability is good for your business!

One of the most difficult things about being an entrepreneur is that all of a sudden every decision comes down to your own judgment.  Knowing that if your decision ends up being wrong, it is 100% your fault can be somewhat paralyzing.  Many promising companies fail to take off because the entrepreneur gets caught up in the minutia of every decision and never end up making one.  Sometimes you just need someone to say, “Enough! You have enough information, now it's time to make a decision."

A board can also be a valuable source of encouragement and support. When you've finally made that decision you were dreading and you are in the middle of implementing it, it can be incredibly helpful just to have someone tell you, “Yeah, I've been there, you'll survive." This encouragement could even be the difference between giving up on your business and having the strength to try again.

You might think that you don’t need a board because you are not “there” yet, because you are “too busy” or even because you are still trying to nail down your business plan.  IT is never too early to get a board together, though, and your board may enjoy being involved in the early stages of your company because this allows them to grow with the company and become move invested over time.

Spending the time to get an Advisory Board is sure to be one of the best business decisions you will ever make.

Remember we at LVG can help in forming an Advisory Board so feel free to call, email or drop by anytime to discuss your thoughts in this critical area for your technology development or company.