Silver Lining at Pitt

Cori Shropshire reported this morning that the number of tech startups spawned at Pitt last year dropped -- a lot.

There's a silver lining here. Marc Malandro, head of Pitt's Office of Technology Management (OTM), understands a big part of the problem, and understanding the problem correctly is step one on the way to solutions:
Finding qualified managers and capital to spin technology into the marketplace continues to be a challenge, he said, particularly with bio- and health-related research.

"Since universities can't start companies they need qualified management -- our challenge is finding qualified people outside to run these companies," Dr. Malandro said. "When you do find them -- the company takes off."

"The company takes off" part isn't always that easy, but he's clearly right that finding good management, especially finding good management locally, is a big barrier to successful commercialization of academic research. Pitt and CMU (and Duquesne and other local universities) have all the rocket scientists they need. They could use a large stable of entrepreneurially-minded Chief Financial Officers.


4 Responses to "Silver Lining at Pitt"

Anonymous said... 10/12/2006 3:09 PM

So what's it take to be a CFO? Should our local Business schools and companies be doing a better job of training these individuals?

Mike Madison said... 10/12/2006 5:40 PM

There is no standard route, at least in the entrepreneurial world. You work your way up the executive ladder, bouncing (in the best of worlds) from company to company and from responsibility to responsbility. You might have stops in sales, marketing, business development, and finance itself. There may be Director and VP positions in your past. I've had friends without MBAs who started as law firm lawyers, then moved to inhouse counsel positions, strayed upwards to become VP of Business Development, and ultimately took over CFO duties.

This isn't really a job for the local business school community; turning out enough qualified high-level managers requires some depth in the corporate community and some willingness on the part of both companies and individuals to play a bit of employment roulette.

Anonymous said... 10/13/2006 5:46 PM

As a local bio-entrepreneur, I don't think a lack of CFOs is the problem, though I realize the caliber of CFOs you are referring to would be helpful. I thik we need better CEOs and COOs. People with experience producing medical products and making money. There are not many of those people around - anywhere. These are people who can get products approved by both the FDA and CMS for sale and reimbursement. These are the people who we need really driving our local biotechs. The CFOs can help, but we need more good, proven CEOs.

Mike Madison said... 10/13/2006 5:49 PM

All of the above. I think we need more good CFOs, but I didn't mean to suggest that CFOs are the problem or the solution. Local companies need COOs, too, and marketing directors, and compliance people -- in biotech, especially compliance people, and reimbursement people (There's only so much complexity that can go into a blog post.)

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Pittsblog 2.0 is written by Mike Madison, a law professor at the University of Pittsburgh. Send email to michael.j.madison[at] Mike also blogs at, on law and technology. Chris Briem of Null Space drops by from time to time.

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