Business Forum: Tech startup pledge forms stout fiscal base

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Dozens of established regional technology companies are being asked to make a pledge to renew the pool of capital available for entrepreneurs with scientific and technology innovations.

The pledge will also fulfill a long-standing contractual obligation with the community of Western Pennsylvania technology funders.

The pledge is simple: to pay the royalties on research and funding agreements that these Pennsylvania companies signed with The Technology Collaborative years ago.

The story behind why these royalty payments are at issue is complicated: After the collaborative formed as a merger of the Pittsburgh Digital Greenhouse and the Robotics Foundry, it gave out a large amount of funds to Pennsylvania technology startups in return for future royalty payments and intellectual property rights on the technologies developed with the money.

But then cuts in funding forced the tech collaborative to discontinue operations.

For a while the companies with the funding didn't know where to send their checks. This past May, Innovation Works took over certain collaborative programs, but that left in limbo all the past contracts with the many innovative and successful companies that the tech collaborative helped. Some of these agreements may have gotten lost in the back files of the companies that signed them.

That's where Idea Foundry has stepped in recently with Intelligent Systems Development. Idea Foundry formed ISD specifically to collect the funds from the collaborative-funded companies developed and to put those funds back into the region's economic development efforts.

The amount owed on these past contracts could run into millions of dollars. ISD has developed an exciting program to use the funds to help inventors and technologies in the pre-commercialization stage through an accelerator program. The ISD Accelerator Program is an industry-led initiative to accelerate the commercialization of innovations with science roots.

Intelligent Systems Development expects to help innovators serving a broad range of markets, from health care and life sciences to advanced manufacturing, robotics and information technology.

The ISD Accelerator Program provides assistance in some key areas for startups:

• Evaluation and protection of intellectual property assets, including directly paying the legal costs.

• Analysis of the market and development of a commercialization plan.

• Development of the appropriate corporate structure for the new business venture, if appropriate.

• Assistance in the licensing of technology to industry.

Efforts will be focused on four technology pillars in which the region has known strengths: networking, automation, information analytics and sensor-based technologies.

In light of the current era of reduced government funding for new technologies, this program will be a shot in the arm to the latest generation of innovators in our region.

But all the funding for this will be limited to what can be collected from the companies that financially benefited from The Technology Collaborative years ago.

That's why we're asking companies to make the pledge to pay back the investment.

By honoring what may be a forgotten contract, they will recycle capital and help form a stronger economic base for the region.

Times have changed, and the sources of funding for new innovations and economic growth have changed, too. Those who benefitted when government and private funds flowed more freely must now not only meet their contractual obligations but also honor the spirit in which they received funds.

I believe that once the collaborative-funded companies ask and answer the question, "What did those monies really mean to me and my company's growth?", they will freely make the pledge to give the same help to the next generation of innovators.

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Michael Matesic is chief executive officer of Oakland-based technology accelerator Idea Foundry.


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