USC Stevens to Lead Tech Transfer

MIT’s Krisztina Holly will head USC’s technology transfer and development programs across both campuses.
By Carl Marziali
Krisztina Holly earned master’s and bachelor’s degrees in mechanical engineering from MIT.

Photo/Philip Channing
To ensure that USC will remain in the vanguard of the country’s elite research universities, and to enhance the societal and economic impact of its research programs, the USC Mark and Mary Stevens Institute for Technology Commercialization has been designated the university’s central resource for technology transfer and development.

Provost C. L. Max Nikias and Senior Vice President Todd R. Dickey announced the USC Stevens's new university-wide role on behalf of USC President Steven B. Sample.

“Research universities in the 21st century will not only be judged by the quality of their research and the quality of their students, but also by how successful they are in transferring technological innovation into the marketplace in order to meet societal needs,” Nikias said.

“Therefore,” he added, “we are very pleased to establish the USC Mark and Mary Stevens Institute for Technology Commercialization as the central resource for start-up creation, intellectual property licensing, faculty intellectual property development and venture capital outreach for USC’s campuses and its research programs.”

To head the institute, Nikias and Dickey recruited Krisztina Holly, formerly executive director of the Deshpande Center for Technological Innovation at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a veteran of successful technology startups. She joins the university March 1 and will report directly to the provost.

USC Stevens was created with a naming gift from USC alumnus and trustee Mark A. Stevens, partner at the legendary Sequoia Capital venture capital firm, and his wife, Mary.

“I think one of the key changes for universities in the 21st century is going to be interdisciplinary study, being able to cross-pollinate, cross-fertilize ideas from different parts of a university campus,” Stevens said.

The genesis for companies like Cisco, Yahoo! and Google came right off of university campuses, Stevens noted. “It’s a trend that must continue if America is going to have a competitive economy in the 21st century,” he said.

USC’s Office of Technology Licensing will become part of the institute, and its staff members will report to Holly, Dickey said. Technology transfer experts in such campus units as the USC Gould School of Law, the Alfred Mann Institute for Biomedical Engineering and the Greif Entrepreneurial Center at the USC Marshall School of Business also will work closely with the institute.

“The Office of Technology Licensing has a professional staff of experts in patents, technology licensing and marketing, and it is a natural fit with the institute’s role as the central resource for technology transfer and development,” Dickey said. “The move of the technology licensing program will jump-start technology transfer at USC and allow us to take it to the next level.”

USC Stevens will have offices on both the University Park and Health Sciences campuses of USC and is expected to grow to a staff of approximately 25 professionals within two years. The institute later plans to open an office in the new BioMedTech Park adjacent to the Health Sciences campus.

Holly, who has spent the past four years as executive director of MIT’s Deshpande Center for Technological Innovation, earned master’s and bachelor’s degrees in mechanical engineering from MIT.

Her career as an innovator began during her undergraduate years when she worked on a team that developed the world’s first computer-generated, full-color reflection hologram.

Soon afterward, she designed a robotic weld-seam-tracking program for the NASA space shuttle’s main engine and co-designed and built a head-eye robot used for vision research.

In 1991, she and two teammates invented and patented “The Stylus,” a pre-Web electronic shopping tool, and wrote a business plan for it that won MIT’s campus-wide entrepreneurial competition.

The company resulting from the business plan entry, Stylus Innovation, created Visual Voice, the first Windows-based computer telephony development tool. Visual Voice revolutionized the computer telephony industry, and Stylus was bought by Artisoft in 1996 for $13 million.

After two and a half years in science documentary production, Holly joined start-up search engine Direct Hit Technologies as part of a small marketing team that, after four months, helped the site reach 1 million Web site hits per day. Ask Jeeves purchased Direct Hit in 2000 for $500 million.

Under her leadership, MIT’s Deshpande Center has been a highly successful and visible program that has supported MIT faculty and students engaged in technology transfer through grants, symposia, mentoring and other means.

Of the 47 projects funded by the center so far, nine of them have spun out and raised $40 million in capital to date, and many others are taking steps toward establishing companies. Founded in 2002, the center links the venture capital, research and high-tech communities in New England. Its grant program is expected to reach a total of $15 million in funded projects by 2007.

Holly said she plans to search for new innovations in academic units across all USC campuses. She mentioned the USC Thornton School of Music, the School of Cinema-Television, the Keck School of Medicine, the College and the School of Dentistry as examples of USC’s overall promise.

“These are all amazing and unique sources for innovation,” she said. “Very few universities have that kind of broad potential.”

Holly also plans to reach out to the venture capital and angel investor communities locally and across the country, and to entrepreneurs to involve them at earlier stages of the technology transfer process and leverage their expertise and connections.

A superior technology transfer program would benefit more than just USC, Holly said. “I feel it potentially could really impact Los Angeles and Southern California. I think it’s an underserved market in terms of venture capital and attention from entrepreneurs. This may be an opportunity to really raise our visibility as a region.”