A conversation with Becky Hundley

06/22/2014 12:00 AM

08/08/2014 10:25 AM

Becky Hundley started working part time dispatching for the Emporia State University police department and wound up as one of the keys to boosting Wichita’s future.

She is the technology transfer manager for Wichita State University. That means she is one of the point people in enabling WSU researchers to become the creators of valuable ideas and technology. The expectation is that new patents will eventually lead to new jobs for Wichita.

Her path to this position is certainly not direct. After leaving Emporia State with a bachelor’s degree with an emphasis in biology and health, she became a dispatcher for the Kansas Highway Patrol in Wichita, then became an insurance agent with an eye toward becoming a teacher, before meeting her future boss at WSU while studying for a master’s degree in business.

Hundley, 43, has a scientific education, business experience, a bubbly personality and still seems surprised at where she wound up.

“I probably should have been running a nonprofit,” she said. “I’m one of those people who feels they need to make a difference, leave the world a better place.”

She is married to David and they have two children.

What do you do?

I manage the patent portfolio for the university, and do the copyrights and the trademarks where it has to do with research. And I work with the faculty members to find out what they’re working on. I collect disclosure forms on things that they think can be either patents or maybe have commercial value. They file a disclosure form that gives me all the particulars about it. I find out if we can patent it and then select the patent attorneys. So I’m the liaison between the faculty and the patent attorneys, and coordinate that whole process. And I also do the material transfer agreements which is typically when you have biological materials or chemicals that you transfer. I report directly to (WSU vice president for research and technology transfer) Dr. (John) Tomblin, so a lot of the Innovation Campus stuff that he is working on, I’ve done those contracts or just work with him if he needs help.”

How many patents does WSU have?

WSU currently has eight. I hesitate a little bit because we have a couple that are ready to fall off, but we have several more that have pending application status. That number of patent applications has increased over the past year, as well as the number of copyright registrations. And that is all a result of the phenomenal increase in disclosures that we’ve received (from faculty).

How much of an increase?

Before President (John) Bardo came we had, maybe, a couple of calls a month. … From 2010 to 2012, we had about 17 disclosures combined for all three years. For the first year that President Bardo was here, we had 18 … and, last time I checked, we’re at 21 for this year alone.

What’s driving it?

We have a wonderful president who has said that technology transfer is important. I was responsible for disclosures when I was doing contracts for NIAR, but there wasn’t much incentive. People really didn’t know that that was something the university was interested in. … It’s this whole culture change. This whole shift in culture. And I joked that best way to increase the number of disclosures is to have your president say this is one of the top five things I want to concentrate. Because it truly does start at the top. The number of people who call me really has increased. People are just thinking about it more.

Are most coming from the school of engineering?

It’s a good mix. The department that has had the most has been the chemistry department. Engineering has had quite a few, but also psychology and human performance. … We have a lot of … educational outreach and a lot of time I would meet with people from fine arts or from education and they would say, “Oh we don’t have any intellectual property,” and I’d say, “Everybody has intellectual property.” You have to think of it outside of a widget, outside of “oh, I’m not an engineer; oh, I’m not a chemist, I don’t have any intellectual property.” One of our technologies right now is from the College of Education. It’s a program that allows them to pull data for accreditation. … So now we have this idea that we are marketing.

Do you have a role with the general business community?

I will talk to anybody. That is part of that culture in the university. It’s the evolution of where we are going. There is more interaction with industry, more interaction with outside people, so it’s not so enclosed within the university community. We have our WSU innovation ecosystem and that plays into the Wichita ecosystem and that plays into the south-central Kansas ecosystem. It’s about trying to connect with people and so the whole area becomes more innovative and we can see some growth.

How?

If you’re a small business owner, or even medium or large one, one of the things that happens in downturns is that research and development budgets get cut. And maybe you had to lay people off or sell some machines. One of the things the university can do is we have a lot of very, very bright people on our campus. Sometimes we can fill in those pieces. We can work with industry and help them with their R&D and the projects they’re working on. ... If I have somebody call and I can pull (the database of faculty research expertise) up and see if we have somebody working in that area and I work to facilitate that connection. I’ll schedule an introductory meeting between the industry or the independent inventor and the faculty and from there it’s up to them to see if the personality or the research matches.

How will the Innovation Campus accelerate that?

The Innovation campus will just add to the excitement and add to everyone wanting to be part of that and wanting to be where innovation is happening.

How has Bardo coming on as president of WSU changed your job?

He’s very energetic, he’s very passionate. He believes in it. And that sincerity rings true. Even the people that are “umm, not sure,” he’s so enthusiastic that you believe him. ... He is a great university president. Back before it wasn’t 40 hours a week (for me), I started getting pulled away to work on contracts. Then Dr. Bardo came on and said it’s going to be research and tech transfer. It’s going to be one of my five top priorities. Then Dr. Tomblin came on board – the interim has now gone away and he is officially the vice president for research and tech transfer – and he said I need you to focus on this. Help me with the tech transfer.

How does faculty research help the community?

If we could license or commercialize it, we could spin it off into a company and create jobs here in Wichita. Or if it’s something we could license something out to an existing company and bring in some revenue. We want to do both.

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