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Sowing Seeds for the Future: OTL's Inaugural Internship Program

OTL’s internship program, kicked off in early March 2020, provides a training ground for entrepreneurial-minded post-docs and grad students.

Stanford’s Office of Technology Licensing (OTL) places a high value on its mission to promote the transfer of Stanford technology for society’s use and benefit, and is continually striving to increase its impact on Stanford’s entrepreneurial ecosystem.

With this mission in mind, OTL has recently launched a new initiative to support the transfer and development of promising technologies while fostering an environment of continued education for Stanford students. OTL’s internship program, kicked off in early March 2020, provides a training ground for entrepreneurial-minded post-docs and grad students, while also contributing valuable market intelligence to the office and Stanford inventors.

The program was able to draw on the experience of two veteran interns, who had first-hand experience of the value of such a program at other institutions. “Starting this internship at Stanford OTL is one of many ways to sow seeds and pay it forward,” said Ying-Li Chen, leader of OTL’s Business Development and Marketing (BDM) team. She appreciated its great potential to train and support students who are exploring alternative career opportunities while the teams benefit from their high quality work. “Interns are able to learn from each other through the internship and help build each others’ professional networks. Many of them successfully leveraged their scientific background and transferrable skills to land on their dream jobs in various industries.”

Licensing associate David Mallin helped co-manage and built the program from its pandemic-mired beginnings at OTL, and was also able to draw on his own experiences. “As a former tech-transfer intern myself, it has been tremendously rewarding to see the fantastic work the interns do while learning skills applicable for tech transfer and beyond.”

Stanford’s inaugural cohort of OTL interns even included a student inventor, Vandon Duong, bringing first-hand experience of the perspective of the researchers that OTL aims to serve.  “The OTL internship was a fantastic opportunity to learn about technology transfer and how academic innovation is shared with broader society,” Vandon said. “I was lucky to have gained a deeper understanding of this process through working with incredible colleagues on various business development and marketing projects.”

That training process has quickly translated into dividends for the office; OTL interns have rapidly become valued contributors to the office’s Licensing and BDM teams. Over the course of the program, a dynamic group of 10 interns across diverse departments have collectively aided in the marketing of more than 200 invention disclosures submitted to OTL- an important step in identifying a potential licensee to further develop the early stage technologies emerging from Stanford laboratories. 

The marketing campaign process for OTL interns begins with the conversion of complicated technical information into a compelling description for potential licensees, highlighting value propositions and improvements over existing solutions. Taking the marketing process a step further, interns also comb through market landscapes for a given technology to identify companies and venture capital firms that are engaged in the same space and likely to be interested in Stanford’s intellectual property (IP). To achieve this task, OTL interns are trained in analysis of invention disclosures, competitive landscapes, and market research on top of the required technical expertise necessary to assess the most compelling commercial aspects of a novel technology. This cross-functional training touches on strategies for IP management and licensing, with input from stakeholders across OTL.

OTL Director Karin Immergluck reflected on the value of the internship program for the office, where each intern has successfully generated marketing interest for a Stanford technology. “Our interns have really shined as quick studies to the world of technology transfer, and have been a valuable resource to find fits for even the most specialized Stanford inventions.”

Chelsea Longwell, an alumni intern who is co-managing OTL’s current cohort, emphasizes the critical role the internship played in her professional development. She said that the program “can mold to fit the needs and interests of the individual, offering a wide range of opportunities from technology evaluation to collaboration conferences.”

Through the upheaval of the COVID-19 pandemic, the program was also able to offer a rare glimmer of stability. While other facets of the university adjusted to a sudden and unexpected transition to remote work, OTL interns were able to continue projects without interruption. Having used a virtual work model since its pre-pandemic beginnings, the program continues to work efficiently and flexibly. Chelsea added that the virtual format “not only enabled the program to effectively adapt to the limitations of a global pandemic, but it has also allowed us to recruit talented interns into our office while giving them the flexibility to continue work on their important research.” Importantly, interns have weekly limitations placed on their time committments to OTL, enabling their progress in the lab to continue unencumbered.

The program has also functioned as a springboard for former interns to move toward their career goals; alumnus Betty Ha recently accepted an offer of a consultancy position to advise life sciences companies after her graduation, while Vandon’s OTL experience has helped support his new search and evaluation role in venture capital. Betty says, “my experience working as a BDM intern gave me incredible insight into the exclusive world of technology transfer at Stanford. The experience helped solidify my interest in pursuing a life science career that implemented both the business and scientific aspects of the industry.” 

OTL accepts current Stanford graduate students and post-docs in the life and physical sciences in several cohorts throughout the year. Check here to catch us on our next intern recruitment cycle!