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R1: Case Studies




Federally supported university programs and entrepreneurial business ventures exert their best efforts to generate prototypes and technology applications presumed to be the basis for new/improved commercial markets. These prototypes are expected to reach the market through start-up companies or through transfers to established manufacturers via sale or license. [1] Unfortunately, most start-up companies fail and university R&D does not routinely transfer to the private sector. [2]

The challenge to solving this persistent problem and improving the outcomes is to ensure that the support enhances the capabilities of new and established manufacturers – both mainstream and A/T companies -- without compromising the forces of free market enterprise. [3] By exploring what works, what doesn't work, and why in actual cases, we expect to increase the quality of technology transfer activities as well as the quantity of successful outcomes.

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The NIDRR's internal assessment of technology transfer activity within RERC programs, recognizes the important role of brokering throughout the process, and the value of a program-level strategy to improve consistency in process and outcome. [4] A program-level strategy for brokering transfers, must address the needs of all stakeholders in the process, because any of them can influence the transfer's eventual success. Developing such a strategy requires a comprehensive needs analysis. We propose that this analysis is best conducted by reviewing case studies.

The T2RERC operates an efficient and effective internal process based on our generic transfer model. The next step is to study how others conduct technology transfer by tracking activity through the generic model's framework. This will identify innovations in other programs and identify factors that facilitate or inhibit their progress. Some of these factors may be unique to a project's context, while others may be readily applied elsewhere. The results will be used to develop a program-level strategy for facilitating and brokering technology transfers.

This focus on innovations directly responds to the NIDRR priority to "research and develop innovative ways to facilitate and improve the process..." We define innovations as procedures that facilitate successful transfers which are either different from those already known to us or are known procedures applied in novel ways. Demonstrating the value of innovative procedures to RERC's and to other transfer projects through case study examples, will encourage the adoption of these innovative procedures in current and future projects.

The T2RERC will examine these diverse cases within the framework of our generic model of technology transfer. [5] This will permit us to conduct analyses that look across projects at any one point in the process - such as at the critical events of idea, prototype, and process. These cross-case analyses will increase our understanding of problems and opportunities common to projects and clarify the role and potential contributions of innovative methods. Technology transfer programs span government, university, and private sectors, so cases will yield diverse inputs, methods, and outputs.

We intend to improve transfer practices in general, but our focus will be on improving practices for RERC's. For that reason, we will examine ALL development projects initiated by RERC's since 1998. This will enable us to trace the path from project inception to transfer while studying the transfer approaches taken. Original RERC proposal documents available through NIDRR will describe the original methods and goals, while continuation applications and program reviews will narrate their progress. After plotting this secondary data on the generic model, we will interview project directors to clarify ambiguous issues and to fill in the details of the narrative. For non-RERC programs involved with A/T, we will only create case studies for successful transfers, in terms of how success was achieved through the application of innovative methods, as previously defined.

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