On campus beat: U cuts red tape for student inventors

  • Article by: Maura Lerner
  • Star Tribune
  • February 19, 2014 - 7:14 PM

Sometimes, college students finish a classroom assignment with more than a grade. They also have an idea for a new business.

It happens more often than you might think, says Jay Schrank­ler, head of the University of Minnesota’s Office for Technology Commercialization. Last week, the Board of Regents took a step to encourage future Mark Zuckerbergs take their ideas and run with them.

From now on, students — not the university — will own the intellectual rights to their classroom projects, thanks to a new policy.

The change was prompted by an explosion of new ideas bubbling up in certain classes, such as engineering and the business school. “There’s some incredible ideas,” Schrankler said, from robotics to medical devices to medical tests.

But U officials sensed that the old rules were putting a damper on students’ entrepreneurial instincts, because they had to get permission from the U first.

So they decided to cut the red tape.

“We are trying, across the university, to promote more entrepreneurial thinking,” Schrankler said. “We really want them to know what it might feel like to invent something and to own it and [decide] what to do with it.”

Take, for example, Nathan Conner, a graduate student at the U’s Carlson School of Management. He came up with a creative way to curb pets from shedding hair and dander around the house — known as the ShedBed. The concept, which involves a thin layer of electronics in the pet’s bed, uses static electricity to attract pet hair onto a removable cover. The idea won the Minnesota Cup, a business award, last fall, and he’s hoping to turn it into a business.

The U hopes to spur more like him, Schrankler said. In fact, this semester, it launched a new program, called MIN-Corps, designed to teach students how to take an idea and build a company around it. “We want it to be really clear that they have great opportunities here,” he said. “We tell students if you need help, give us a call. We’re building this whole system to assist students.”

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