TCO funding continues despite cutback

By Caryn Rosenberg

University funding of the Technology Commercialization Office continues despite cutbacks throughout the university and the withdrawal of a state grant.

The Technology Commercialization Office (formerly the Technology Commercialization Center) services people both inside and outside the university who have marketing ideas, need marketing assistance, manufacturing help or money from the private sector.

“We are a broker of services to individuals or small- to medium-sized businesses who need help in commercializing their ideas or inventions,” said Larry Sill, director of the Technology Commercialization Office.

In the past, the office received a yearly grant of $200,000 from the Department of Commerce and Community Affairs (DCCA), but in order to get the grant, the university had to provide a matching amount.

Sill said $100,000 was used for office administration costs, such as rent and phones, and $100,000 was used for other project costs related to helping clients.

Last year, the office was also supplemented with an additional $110,000 for project costs from the DCCA pool.

“The DCCA pool is a pool of money kept in (the DCCA) office that we could make application for funding projects if we needed them,” Sill said.

State funding ceased as of a June 30 decision, but NIU continued funding the office.

Jerrold Zar, associate provost for Graduate Studies and Research, said the office is an important part of the university.

“That office has been providing important services for the university as well as outside businesses in Illinois,” Zar said.

Zar said the office provides a public service and works with faculty at the university to help them with their research.

“It helps (clients) develop new inventions, so they can develop a patent and tries to find industrial contacts and ultimately, if that’s successful, it makes money for the university,” Zar said.

Zar said the university gave no additional money to the office since the funding ceased.

“There’s no new money,” Zar said. “The same thing in this year’s budget was in last year’s budget.”

Sill said this is true.

“The university gives money to cover my salary and minimum expenses to keep the office open,” Sill said. “We get no money to cover client costs.”

As a result, many operating changes have taken place this year.

“We’ve cut as many expenses as we can and still try to keep the office open.”

For example, Sill said the workforce has been cut from three full-time workers to one and from four phone lines to two.

From the time the office opened in 1985 to the day the grant ran out, the office has helped more than 500 clients further develop their ideas and products.

However, since the state dropped their grant, demand has also dropped.

“We’re just not in the position to give them the same type of help,” Sill said.

The Technology Commercialization Office at NIU was not the only office affected by the state agency’s decision not to renew the grant.

“There are 13 centers across the state,” Zar said. “All funding was withdrawn.”