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Phil Robilotto, DO, MBA
University of Maryland, Baltimore
From Discovery to Startup
Each year, Phil Robilotto, DO, MBA, is briefed on nearly 200 ideas developed by scientists at the University of Maryland, Baltimore—inventions, innovations, and applications that can make surgeries safer, more effectively diagnose disease, cut health care costs, or quicken recovery times. Robilotto’s job as UMB’s chief commercialization officer is to find from among these ideas—most of them incredibly good, he says—the ones with the best shot at making it into the marketplace.
“We get everything the University inventors come up with—for instance, a new medical device, therapeutic, or medication in the very early stage,” says Robilotto. “The scientists disclose the potential product or process to us, and then we have to evaluate whether it’s something we can patent or copyright or otherwise protect. When we move forward with an invention, we’re ultimately trying to market it and find a partner for it. We want to put it in the hands of someone who can further develop and commercialize the technology for us.”
When possible, Robilotto says, he’d like the team of people commercializing the technology to include the people who invented it in the first place. That’s how UMB-born inventions become Baltimore-based startups.
It’s a process Chris Meenan knows well. Meenan is many things: a faculty researcher in the School of Medicine, a systems engineer, a business school student. He’s also co-founder and CEO of Analytical Informatics (AI) [www.analytical.info], a Baltimore startup whose software drives quality and efficiency improvements in hospitals and other health care settings.
Meenan started AI with fellow members of the School of Medicine’s imaging informatics team. He knew the platform technology and applications they were developing could dramatically improve operational efficiency and decision-making by aggregating health care data and giving providers real-time access to it.
Robilotto agreed. He and his team in the UM Ventures Office of Technology Transfer [www.umventures.org] helped Meenan secure the license agreements that made AI’s launch possible. The team quickly drove the company from concept to commercialization, acquiring funding and customers along the way.
“Analytical Informatics may be one startup case study, but it’s not the only one,” says Robilotto. “We’re forming successful commercial ventures based on the University’s IP [intellectual property] with greater frequency now.”
His expertise in doing just that made Robilotto the perfect fit for a University looking to accelerate its technology transfer and commercialization efforts. He came to UMB in 2011, as the University began a focused effort to grow its intellectual property portfolio and more effectively leverage that property through licensing or startup development. Robilotto’s résumé includes nearly 20 years of clinical practice experience and a string of pharmaceutical/biotechnology business development successes on behalf of top U.S. life sciences companies.
Robilotto now leads a growing team of IP managers, technology licensing officers, and business development professionals hired to expand the University’s capacity in technology assessment, market analysis, and commercialization—to improve the speed and precision with which faculty ideas find their way out of the University and into the marketplace.
To do that, Robilotto and his team watch for the right mix of ideas, innovation, and commercial potential. “By encouraging entrepreneurship among our students and faculty and providing them expert advice and business services, we’ll help more discoveries reach the market,” Robilotto says. “And by engaging directly with external partners, we’re inviting new investment into the University, expanding the markets for our commercial offerings, and bringing more startup ventures to fruition.”
The economic development stimulated by this work isn’t important to UMB alone. It’s a statewide priority that got a boost a few years ago with the establishment of UM Ventures, a joint initiative of UMB and the University of Maryland, College Park. UM Ventures fuels commercialization by creating interdisciplinary teams of clinicians, engineers, lawyers, and business experts to find the best discoveries and technologies of both universities and more aggressively move them into the marketplace; by providing the business community one point of entry to unified licensing and patenting services; and by streamlining processes that enhance technology transfer and industry collaboration.
The year before Robilotto arrived at UMB, UM Ventures Baltimore logged 88 invention disclosures. In fiscal year 2014, that number was 170. Annual licensing agreements had more than doubled to 30. And startups are now poised to grow significantly with the recent expansion of UMB’s New Ventures team.
Meanwhile, Analytical Informatics is on a roll as well. Thanks to doing the right work up front and the assistance provided by Robilotto and UM Ventures, AI was named a semi-finalist in 43North, the world’s largest business idea competition. The company has attracted funding from a variety of sources, including the Maryland Innovation Initiative of TEDCO (the state’s leading provider of entrepreneurial business assistance and seed funding for tech-based startups). And with 10 health care clients on its customer list—hospitals, hospital systems, and health IT vendors—AI is on its way to achieving the mission that’s guided Meenan and his team from the start: Solve real problems in health care by revolutionizing health care technology.