From the start, part of WSU Health Sciences’ promise has been research – how the work of its scientists might spin off into new technologies and companies that have the potential to change lives.

Since April, an associate from the WSU Office of Commercialization in Pullman has held regular office hours in Spokane to help scientists move their innovations to market.

“It’s the goal of our office to get inventions that WSU researchers and innovators are working on out to the rest of the world,” said Aileen Helsel, the technology licensing associate. “As a public institution we want our work to benefit people whose federal tax dollars are supporting research.”

Inventions by researchers across the Washington State University system generated $6.6 million in royalty income in the last 12 months. WSU has had more than 600 patents, 25 trademarks and 15 copyrights awarded since the university began commercializing its inventions.

“With the addition of the new Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine, WSU Health Sciences is well-positioned to bring innovation to the healthcare and biotech industries in Spokane,” said Sita Pappu, assistant vice president for the Office of Commercialization. “The entrepreneurship culture of Spokane promotes an environment where our researchers can translate their research from the lab to innovations ready for the marketplace. The transfer of technologies to commercial entities allows valuable knowledge to be applied through local and global engagement.”

Helsel is working with about a dozen researchers at WSU Health Sciences, she said. Some of those innovations are very early discoveries, others are already in clinical trials.

In general, it’s better for scientists to approach the commercialization office early in their research, Helsel said. Researchers fill out an online form to disclose their invention or technology to the WSU Office of Commercialization. They’re assigned one of the office’s technology licensing associates, who specialize in different areas of science. Helsel’s portfolio includes veterinary, health and life sciences, for example.

The Office of Commercialization can help a researcher protect their work with a patent, trademark, trade secret or copyright; steer them to funding resources; help with marketing; identify potential industry partners; or advise on licensing the technology to a startup company. The office maintains an online directory of technologies available for commercialization, and another catalog of specialized research products and manuals developed by WSU scientists. WSU also has a Research and Technology Park in Pullman offering office, lab and warehouse space for lease.

Aileen Helsel
Technology licensing associate Aileen Helsel

“It’s very dependent on the researcher themselves,” Helsel said. “Some of them are really interested in a startup, but I would say that’s fairly rare. Most academic researchers are in it for the love of being able to run a research lab, and they want to stay there,” so they’re looking for industry partners.

Helsel knows something about the motivations of academic researchers because she was one not too long ago. She got her PhD in molecular bioscience at WSU, then became a lab manager as a post-doc. She joined the Office of Commercialization in January.

“I’ve always been interested in this side of science – getting it out to the rest of the world,” she said.

She predicts big things for Spokane’s University District and the technology it will produce.

“Spokane seems to be in a very good place right now, with WSU, EWU and the other college campuses around here,” she said. “I think it’s going to become an attractive spot for industry, especially as other cities like Seattle become prohibitively expensive.”

Commercialization Gap Fund:

The Office of Commercialization, in partnership with the Washington Research Foundation, is hosting a Commercialization Gap Fund competition. The award helps WSU researchers bridge the gap between research and commercialization by awarding up to $50,000 toward support of critical resources. The deadline for submitting a 5-question letter of intent is July 26. More information is available at https://commercialization.wsu.edu/cgf-guide/