The University of Tennessee Research Foundation (UTRF) is joining technology transfer offices across all 14 SEC schools to address a common challenge: building strong startup management teams that attract the eye of early-stage investors. Together the universities are launching the Southeast Executives-on-Roster (XOR) platform, which matches experienced entrepreneurial talent with university-affiliated startups in need of executive management.
At UT, faculty and students are continually innovating and generating new technologies. These technologies serve as the basis for startups to bring new products and services to market. However, the growth of many startups stalls due to a lack of additional management to take the company to the next level.
At the annual SEC Technology Transfer Directors meeting in July 2017, multiple schools noted the particular challenge in pairing promising technologies with experienced executive leadership. One reason for this dilemma is that each participating university has a broader scope of research than its immediately accessible network of entrepreneurs. As a result, the schools sought a way to match university startups not just with talented entrepreneurs, but with those possessing experience and relationships in the applicable industry. Meeting attendees agreed that pooling resources into a collective effort could boost the number of venture-fundable startup companies.
Thus, all 14 SEC schools’ technology transfer offices engaged in a year-long collaborative development process, led by the University of Kentucky’s Office of Technology Commercialization, to turn this basic idea into Southeast XOR. Southeast XOR essentially combines the entrepreneur talent networks of all 14 SEC schools. This gives university-affiliated startup companies access to a larger talent pool and improves their chances of finding fundable executive management. Likewise, Southeast XOR offers entrepreneurs an opportunity to review a larger pipeline of opportunities in a central and user-friendly space.
Each school nominates its own startups and entrepreneurs to participate in Southeast XOR. To qualify, startups must be in search of management talent and willing to develop a pitch deck for entrepreneurs to review. At UT, interested startups can work with UTRF to create pitch decks and other materials to post on the platform.
For entrepreneurs, the criteria to become a Southeast XOR Entrepreneur is more defined. Eligible individuals should have experience founding a startup, raising capital, and/or serving as an executive at an established company in a relevant field. Candidates should have both an affiliation or recommendation from an SEC school and the desire to serve in an executive management role for a startup.
“Southeast XOR will play a key role in helping UT startups fill critical talent gaps and attract interest from venture capital firms,” said Stacey Patterson, president of the University of Tennessee Research Foundation. “UTRF is excited to join our SEC colleagues in a collaborative network that we believe will lead to stronger startup leadership teams capable of attracting the capital needed to bring their innovations to market.”
UTRF submitted five Tennessee-based startups to launch Southeast XOR in August 2018: medical device startups Embrace Design and Neurodyne; biotechnology startup 490 Biotech; green chemistry startup Peroxygen Systems; and pharmaceutical startup OculoTherapy. UTRF has also prequalified three experienced entrepreneurs to access the platform and will continue to seek interested individuals who have executive or entrepreneurial experience.
UT is partnering with the following universities in Southeast XOR: Auburn University, Louisiana State University, Mississippi State University, Texas A&M University, University of Alabama, University of Arkansas, University of Florida, University of Georgia, University of Kentucky, University of Mississippi, University of Missouri, University of South Carolina, and Vanderbilt University.
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