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Faculty-Associated Startups and SBIR/STTR

WVU supports collaboration with small business partners—including SBIR/STTR commercialization grants—to help transfer technologies to the commercial market.

WVU offers its partnership to not only small companies unaffiliated with the university, but also to faculty and staff-owned companies including faculty-administered startups.

However, because WVU is a non-profit research institution, diligence is required to protect that status when partnering with for-profit companies for the purpose of commercialization. More so when WVU employees have a financial interest in the company. The COI Office has developed guidance to ensure that collaborations between the university and small businesses on Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR)/Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) grants do not compromise the University’s mission and clear distinctions are maintained between academic research and commercialization projects.

Navigating COI the implications of SBIR/STTR

Participation in SBIR/STTR programs by WVU faculty through a Small Business can create conflicts of interest (COIs) on the part of the faculty members. This happens when a faculty member is the co-founder or owner of the Small Business applying for the funding, and simultaneously will do research on a subaward between the Small Business and WVU. Among the reasons for the COI are:

  • The potential for the research to be viewed as biased or not objective since the investigator may have financial benefit from the outcome of the research due to their interests in/relationship with the company, as well as intellectual property resulting from the research for which the company would be a likely commercial vehicle;

  • Concern that the individual may be using their WVU lab, students, staff, funds or other WVU resources to support their Small Business, jeopardizing academic research and the progress of their students or staff; and

  • The potential for the blurring of the non-profit/for-profit boundary, in that the tax-exempt facilities could be used in a way that competitively advantages the for-profit company.

A COI management plan must be discussed and created to pursue SBIR and STTR funding by employees or faculty members. For more information please visit the Office of Student and Faculty Innovation.