NIU continues funding of TCO

By Caryn Rosenberg

Despite the withdrawal of state resources, operation cutbacks and a decreased clientele, NIU continues its funding of the Technology Commercialization Office (TCO).

TCO services people who have marketing ideas, need marketing assistance, manufacturing information or money from the private sector.

In the past, TCO received a yearly grant from the Department of Commerce and Community Affairs (DCCA), with a matching amount from NIU. State funding ceased as of June 30, but NIU continues to fund the office.

Because of the cut, TCO has trimmed its work force from three employees to one and decreased the number of phone lines from four to one.

However, Rita Reynolds, business manager of the Graduate School, said NIU still pays for TCO Director Larry Sill’s $75,000-plus salary and $900 per month rent for space shared with the Small Business Development Center.

The university also pays for Sill’s transportation costs, which have amounted to $600 this fiscal year and telephone charges, which average $25 per month, Reynolds said.

Reynolds said other expenses, such as mail and copying expenses, are covered by the residuals from the program’s grants.

Bill said since the state ceased funding, TCO’s clientele has decreased.

“We don’t have resources so we don’t have the same visibility as we had when the state funded the program,” Sill said. “Since we don’t have any resources of our own, the clients have to cover any expenses on their own.”

As a result, Jerrold Zar, associate provost for Graduate Studies and Research, said TCO’s focus has changed considerably since the state funding was cut.

He said Sill now concentrates more on advising and consulting with faculty inside the university on matters such as how to secure a patent or getting a license. Working with outside corporations now is only a minor part of TCO’s focus.

“When we had the grant funding from the state, (Sill) worked on very specific projects with businesses outside the university,” Zar said. “We don’t have those specific kinds of projects now.”

Sill said he agrees. “During these past nine months, I’ve been working more within the university than in the past,” he said. “We are now more focused on internal university efforts.”

Despite this shift, Sill said TCO’s services still are in demand.

“Even though we don’t have the resources, we do have knowledge and expertise to help develop inventions,” Sill said. “People are still in need of that kind of guidance.”

However, Sill said he had no idea of how many people sought his services since state funding was dropped.

“Since it’s been just me here, I don’t really keep records like I should,” he said.

Although Sill said TCO has worked on a number of projects since the state funding was cut, he could not give examples of any of them.

“There isn’t any project I feel comfortable saying something about at this time,” Sill said. “I’m not in a position to say anything about individual projects.”

In addition, Sill said he was not sure if $75,000 per year was an accurate estimation of his salary.

“I don’t know. I’d have to figure that out,” Sill said. “It seems about right.”

Although TCO now deals mainly with NIU faculty, Zar said TCO’s off-campus location is advantageous because is it is more accessible to outside businesses than an on-campus location because of the parking shortage at NIU.

In addition, Zar said TCO could move to a smaller office, but said it would not really save money because NIU would continue to rent TCO’s current office space.

We’ve been looking to see if there’s some other place we could move the operation,” Sill said. “But the university would maintain that office downtown for somebody.”