Interview with Krisztina Holly, USC Stevens Institute

My interview today is with Krisztina Holly, new director of the University of Southern California's Stevens Institute for Technology Entrepreneurship and Commercialization (SITEC). The institute is looking to connect with the local technology industry, and I thought it would be good to profile what the school is doing.

Ben Kuo: Can you talk a little bit about the purpose of the USC Stevens institute and its mission?

KH: The mission of USC Stevens is to help faculty and students commercialize their innovations. Why would they want to do that? Primarily for societal impact. There is huge innovation at universities across the country. USC is up at the top in terms of research volume, but across the board it's a challenge to get innovation out of the universities and into people's lives. Why does the university care about that? It's really to stay at the cutting edge. Universities are about discovering new knowledge and education. The way to be best is to attract the best faculty, best students, and develop research and teaching that is relevant to the world. We're showing people that USC is creating relevance and innovation that is making it into people's hands in the form of products and services, and we are going to be able to fuel USC's prominence as a top research institution.

BK: How long has the institute been around?

KH: The Stevens Institute was originally established a year ago with a gift to the School of Engineering. With a vision of Provost Max Nikias and also President Sample, we now have an opportunity to create an umbrella initiative across the whole university, with an integrated approach. We are now finding and protecting IP across the university. We have a huge source of innovation across 18 schools, and we have a community of investors, venture capitalists, and entrepreneurs willing to interact with the faculty and students to help them commercialize technology. We are also leveraging courses from schools – The Gould School of Law, the Marshall School of Business, The Viterbi Engineering School, and the Keck School of Medicine. We're now offering a minor for undergraduates in technology commercialization, and a graduate certificate in commercialization. We are a one-stop resource for inside and for commercialization outside.

BK: Did USC have a technology transfer office?

KH: Yes, the Office of Technology licensing is now integrated into the USC Stevens Institute.

BK: Why did you decide to join USC from your position at MIT?

KH: I was really happy at MIT, and I was recruited. What I was surprised and excited by was both the Provost's bold and creative approach to this, and the commitment to vision, the commitment to doing something significant. It's an opportunity to build from the ground up, pioneering on how we can really draw on the depth and breadth of the 17 research schools and the graduate school.

BK: What are some of your goals as you start into this job—I assume there's a lot on your plate?

KH: Definitely. Much of this has do with making sure we do things right from the very beginning. It's an opportunity to create a new vision. I'm now familiarizing myself with how things have been done here, evaluating other university approaches—I have some experience there—and doing a baseline study of faculty and students about what their attitudes are about the commercialization of technology. Of course, branding and identity of the Center is important, and we've also put into place a staffing plan. We have a dozen people now, and are growing to 25 people in the next couple of years. There has been a buzz over the last year as well, but we're planning over the next 3-6 months to start to put in place outreach outside of the University. Right now we are focused on outreach among the faculty and students.

BK: How are you going to handle industry involvement—what would you say to the investors, entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, and others?

KH: From my experience at MIT I know how difficult it is to get a good glimpse into a university. Inside the walls of the university there's lots going on. We want to facilitate that process, and will be holding outreach events for venture capitalists, angels, and entrepreneurs. We will also be asking for their help. We'd like the business community to come in and volunteer, and help mentor and give guidance. It's a two way street.

BK: Thanks!


More Headlines