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Today, you'll learn about a number of university-related resources you can use to commercialize (in other words, try to make money) for your patent. They're named in the Tip Jar section below.
Now, we turn to Norma Alcantar, Ph.D., a scientist so prolific with her patents, she's a Hall of Famer in Florida for her inventions.
“Congratulations! You got a patent. Now what do you do?”
If you’re Norma Alcantar, Ph.D., you’ve been down this road before.
She’s been down it 22 times. Yep. The University of South Florida chemical, biomedical and materials engineering professor (that’s a mouthful) considers herself a professor first.
But after getting some training from the National Science Foundation, she answered the question, who was going to license her patent?
“It’s either another company that is interested in the technology… or you have the option to take your technology to commercialization. So that’s what I did in my case. I thought it was something I could do.”
Heck, after getting almost two dozen patents, I’m thinking there’s not much she can’t do.
But it is a commitment.
INDUSTRY: Education and Engineering (Chemical, Biomedical and Materials)
STARTED BUSINESS: 2016 (for her cactus extraction technology patent)
LATINO/HISPANIC CONNECTION: Born in Mexico, parents are also from Mexico
University of California Davis, University of California Santa Barbara & Los Alamos National Lab - Postdoctoral Research
University of California Santa Barbara - Ph.D. in Chemical Engineering
National Autonomous University of Mexico - Bachelor’s degree in Chemical Engineering
DREAM JOB AS A KID: “I thought I was going to be a lawyer. My mother wanted me to be a lawyer. And, yet, I went to junior high and I discovered chemistry. And I fell in love with chemistry.”
BIGGEST GOAL YET: “To be able to really help faculty in what they want to do. You know, help them be successful… I have tools. I have resources that I can give."
"I want faculty that is starting their career to appreciate what they have and to have the tools that they need to be successful. The faculty that is… mid-career – to help them get... the promotion… And the ones that are successful, to open the park for them and help them mentor others.”
COMMERCIALIZING YOUR PATENT
Alcantar says, “For an academic like myself, it’s very hard to think about another job. And it requires a lot of time to really be in the commercialization part of the project. You need to be there. You need to talk to investors. You need to do… a market study.”
She was told to pick the technology that was going to give her the highest reward.
She settled on her cactus extraction technology for the aquaculture industry, particularly in Florida.
“They were really interested in trying to purify water.”
It was her grandmother who first introduced her to the powers of the cactus as a little girl growing up in Mexico.
Briefly, the cactus-related technology she chose to commercialize removes contaminants. She gives the example of sitting down at a restaurant to eat fish that ends up smelling, well, fishy.
“They’re called off-flavor compounds because [they don’t] really change the taste. But you can smell [them]. So the technology is about taking the compounds when the fish is in the last process of production.”
What her technology does is “… to remove these contaminants in a week [vs. a month] and that enhances the quality of the fish, as well as the… production time.”
STARTING THE PROCESS
Professor Alcantar started the commercialization process for this specific patent in 2016. She formed a company and received funding from a research foundation. She hired a postdoctoral researcher, did a pilot unit, conducted testing and confirmed the technology worked. She says it took a year to a year and a half to get to the pilot unit part.
“The next step for us is to then go for what is called a small business research grant.”
You can get one through the SBIR (Small Business Innovation Research) program.
GRANTS GET YOU GOING
She says grants help you get more money and get you on solid footing.
“Phase one is a small grant. Kind of… to get you off the ground. And, then, after that, it’s one that will let you hire more people, start thinking about manufacturing, scaling up.”
Of course, once Alcantar’s pilot unit part was completed, COVID hit. Her postdoctoral researcher moved away and things stalled.
She is now getting things back off the ground.
But the process is something to consider, especially after she mentioned how it works when you’re an academic – at least in her case.
She says, “The patent actually belongs, in part, to the university. So, my patent, if it gets licensed, the university gets 55%. The inventors get 45%.”
Still, at her core, Alcantar is an educator, no matter how many patents she can claim. “If someone asks me, are you going to leave your job to dedicate all your time for a company, I don’t know if I would say yes. You know, I love my job.”
MAKING A LASTING MARK
Professor Alcantar has now been inducted into the Florida Inventors Hall of Fame and has clearly made numerous contributions to the field of science. But, it seems to be particularly fulfilling to her that she made it into Florida's science textbook for 1st graders. A friend told her she’d been reading to her child when they happened upon the story of Alcantar and her work in science.
Maybe this accomplishment is particularly satisfying because it reminds her of her days back in Mexico as a little girl where discovering the wonders of the natural world fascinated her. Those were the days that created a lasting impression that resulted in a lifetime of work and legacy.
THE TIP JAR (tips passed out courtesy of Norma Alcantar, Ph.D.)
STARTING OUT: “Be very focused… You know, have a plan… And apply all your energy to complete that task.”
“For a person who is starting, it’s really hard if they are doing it part-time or if they have something else to do.”
“Look for opportunities.”
“Talk to advisors. Talk to mentors. And, you know, don’t be afraid.”
I asked her exactly where someone should look for opportunities.
Since Alcantar teaches at USF (University of South Florida), she recommends places like CAMLS (Center for Advanced Medical Learning and Simulation). She says it focuses mainly on biomedical businesses. “But they do help entrepreneurs to get in contact with other companies and VCs (venture capital firms).
She says the university also has an Institute for Entrepreneurship. “Call and talk to the advisors there.”
After telling them about your idea, you should then ask, according to Professor Alcantar, “Can you put me in contact with someone who will… work with me?”
“We also have USF Connect. That’s also to research an innovation here at USF. They are really good at commercializing ideas. We have advisors there that we go to, and they just help… Sometimes, you just need to talk to someone and see what the process is.”
STEEPED IN SKILLS (mid-career): “I would recommend that they look into different programs that the federal government has for SBIRs (Small Business Innovation Research) There are tons of them… So you can go to grants.com and just click SBIR and then you’re going to see that there’s a wealth of information. All the agencies.”
She gives the following examples for the type of idea you have:
Medical device – NIH (National Institutes of Health)
Community-related – NSF (National Science Foundation)
Education-related – DOE (Department of Education)
“So just look for these kind of opportunities, and they give you the guidelines.”
Alcantar says, if you’re starting a new business after doing something else, she recommends you think about what worked and what didn’t work in your previous business.
If it didn’t work, “analyze why it didn’t work” and then think about the “best practice” you missed. So when you do it again, you won’t miss it.
I’LL NEVER DO THAT AGAIN: “Don’t ever say never. Because you never know. Maybe if you do it again, it will be very successful. And then you have already learned what happened before. Don’t be afraid of failure. You know, we learn from our mistakes. And, once we make a mistake, try to fix it. And if you cannot fix it, move on… Just let it go would be my advice.”
BEST ADVICE FROM “LA CASA”/BEST “HOUSE” ADVICE: The most memorable advice from the house that Alcantar received came from her mom. She would tell her, “No eres monedita de oro para caerle bien a todos.” TRANSLATION: “You are not a gold coin that will be liked by everyone.”
NO NEED TO GO IT ALONE
HELP ON THE OUTSIDE...because we can all use a helping hand:
Sell, Sell, Sell
Selling is the basis of a business. You’ll learn how to do it well and how to look at the factors like emotions and personality types that influence sales success in this FREE online webinar. There will be breakout rooms for a portion of the class to help you try out what you’ve learned. Register at the link below:
Real World Selling
SCORE (Service Corps of Retired Executives)
Tuesday, March 15, 2022
7:00 p.m. EST – 8:00 p.m. EST
WORKING ON THE INSIDE...because we know our culture has a hard time asking for help:
Let’s Talk It Over Coffee
Anything mentioning coffee gets my attention. This SBA-sponsored coffee gathering over Zoom (and, yes, it’s ok to bring another beverage) is designed to provide an inviting, supportive type of get-together for women business owners where you can discuss what’s on your mind.
Sometimes, just learning that other people face the same kinds of issues, fears and concerns you have can provide the morale boost you need to keep going.
Tuesday, March 15, 2022
10:00 a.m. EDT – 11:00 a.m. EDT
INSPIRATION FOR THIS ISSUE:
They say that keeping that child-like wonder is the key to enjoying every day.
That’s why there was something that Professor Norma Alcantar said to me that I thought was important to share.
She told me, some days you can look at the day and say, “Oh, this was really horrible. But, really, if you start thinking about your day, I bet you learned something new. You just have to take the good things and erase the bad things, every day.”
Some days, it is hard to shake off the bad day. But I do believe it’s all in how you frame your experiences. If you view your life and what happens to you as a lesson and each day as an opportunity to learn something new, even if it goes horribly wrong, the lesson is what makes it valuable.
Even after having achieved so much and contributed to our understanding of the world around us, Professor Alcantar still has that wonder in her eyes and in her mind. It’s likely what leads her to keep finding new ways to approach and solve old problems.
If you think about it, that’s what business is about: offering a solution to a problem that people will find valuable enough to pay for.
It coincides with a quote that I happened to see today. It’s by Albert Einstein: “Try not to become a man [or woman] of success, but rather try to become a person of value.”
And that brings us back to Alcantar. She’s a person that offered value to the world. And that’s what has led to her success.
Near the end of our interview she told me, “Every day, you learn something. Every day. I mean, I’m amazed, sometimes. Like, wow. I didn’t know that. Now I know it. It’s almost every day that I say that. Every day, there’s something new, something of value.”
I hope this helps you find value in the little discoveries and experiences in your path. Every day.
🌴And if you find value in this newsletter, please share it.
🌴Thanks for sharing a little bit of your day with me.