Stan Willie brings technology to life. As the executive director of Boston University’s Office of Technology Development (OTD), Willie helps push promising research from the drawing board to the marketplace. Along the way, he’s changed what technology development means at BU.
“I’m building OTD into an organization that provides a comprehensive approach to commercializing technologies arising from the research of BU faculty, students, and staff,” says Willie. Before coming to BU in 2005, he worked for more than a decade building and managing the alternative investment programs for the pension fund of Qwest Communications in Colorado. He also developed investment strategies based on mathematical and statistical models.
In the nearly two years he’s been at OTD, Willie has helped the office expand the way it connects with promising research and supports entrepreneurship at BU. Last year, for instance, OTD helped fund two new University positions — known as site miners — tasked with cultivating research partnerships between biomedical engineers at the College of Engineering and clinicians on the Medical Campus.
Willie has also overseen a major change in how OTD funds translational research — the critical engineering, manufacturing, and business-development hurdles that stand between a technology that works in the lab and a marketable product. Last year, he enlisted a team of Boston-area venture capitalists to review applications for the quarterly Ignition Awards, given by OTD to help BU researchers make the leap into the business world. Ignition Award-winning projects have ranged from a new method of delivering hormonal therapies using implanted adult stem cells to a technique for diagnosing lung cancer with a noninvasive brushing of cells lining the inside of the nose.
Under Willie’s leadership, OTD has also added an innovation and entrepreneurship group, which offers support to BU faculty start-up companies by providing guidance on business management, product offering, and market research, and a corporate business development group, which fosters sponsored research agreements between industry and BU faculty.
Meanwhile, BU’s business incubator, run out of the Photonics Center and jointly administered with OTD, has switched its emphasis to be more educational.
“In the past, the focus of bringing companies into the incubator was on achieving a financial return on investment,” Willie explains. BU would offer fledgling companies access to University labs and other facilities in exchange for some ownership stake in the company. But now, following the lead of University President Robert Brown, OTD and the Photonics Center increasingly seek “companies with a staff that’s willing to collaborate with faculty, host student interns, and participate in educational activities through seminars, panels, and lectures.”
Willie, a Salt Lake City native, had visited Boston only briefly before he joined BU. But he jumped at the chance to take the reins at OTD.
“I’ve always been interested in start-up businesses and in commercializing technologies,” says Willie, who earned a doctorate in statistics from the University of California, Berkeley, and then did research and development work in computer system design and automatic speech recognition systems before joining Qwest Communications in 1990. “I’ve also enjoyed working with University faculty. Joining BU was a wonderful opportunity to get involved in exciting, leading-edge technologies and create new approaches to commercializing university intellectual property.”
Chris Berdik can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.