Connie Cleary plays two key roles at Brookhaven National Laboratory: Promoting the amazing science – and vast commercialization potential – happening at the Department of Energy facility, and helping entrepreneurs and other innovators capitalize on the lab’s dizzying array of scientific and business resources. As a former manager of industry partnerships at Argonne National Laboratory and a licensing expert at Rush University Medical Center, both in Chicago, the Baruch College graduate and doctor of podiatric medicine sees both sides of BNL’s commercialization coin as critical to Long Island’s burgeoning innovation economy. Her story, her words:
SCIENCE CALLING: I was always interested in continuing to work in science after I determined to leave my private practice. Working at the University of Illinois, I developed additional skills and was put in charge of a licensing team, and I found that I really loved it.
LET’S GET PHYSICAL: From there I developed skills in the physical sciences as well. I had to manage employees and learn how those physical sciences worked, and I wound up working on technologies in virtually every sector. The university had 15 colleges and any particular science you can think of was covered, so when a new invention came around we had to understand it and figure out if there was any commercial potential.
ARGONNE CONCLUSION: I was able to amass knowledge and parlay that into leading battery-technology commercialization opportunities at Argonne. And the skills I learned at Argonne helped me come over to Brookhaven Lab with less of a learning curve.
WORK IN PROGRESS: I’ve learned so much at Brookhaven, but I still have a lot to learn. The portfolios are slightly different, and the culture here is a bit different than the culture at Argonne – different personalities, different types of science.
PASSION PLAY: But Department of Energy laboratories are different than other laboratories and universities. The passion for science that each brings to the table – that’s the thing. The love of science transcends all other focuses.
THINKING SMALL: We run the full gamut, working with everything from startups to large companies. But we have a special interest in helping small companies and entrepreneurs develop technologies so they can stay on Long Island and add to the economic infrastructure here. A couple of startup companies that we’ve licensed are maintaining a presence on Long Island, and I think that’s very good for the Island and very good for the laboratory.
A COMMERCIAL MESSAGE: We have a website that folks can come and visit to see what technologies we have available for licensing. There are also subscriptions available for anybody who wants to learn more about new technologies that come on the board. A company or an investor can say, “I’m interested in X technologies,” and when X technologies come on the board they will be notified. It’s dynamic, up-to-date information.
MENTOR METHOD: We work very closely with the Small Business Development Center at Stony Brook University and we have a presence on the advisory board at the Clean Energy Business Incubator Program. We’re trying to help mentor several small businesses through the commercialization process.
COMING SOON: We’re negotiating now over licensing rights with a few other people, but I can’t really talk about it. There are confidentiality agreements in place. But we are definitely working to develop our ability to increase our portfolio and license technologies in the portfolio to small businesses, veterans, minority business owners and so forth.
OPPORTUNITY KNOCKING: We want them to know that there are opportunities to partner with us on federal research grants and on collaborative research. We don’t just license BNL science – we have user facilities that small businesses can take advantage of at little to no cost. We want to get the word out that these opportunities exist.
SILICON VALLEY WASN’T BUILT IN A DAY: I think Long Island’s innovation economy is on the upswing, but I think it’s going to take time to develop this ecosystem. I think we’re on the right track, though. I truly believe the work being done and the collaborations between all the universities on Long Island and BNL are going well. Together with the regional investment community, I think we can make a really big difference.