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KU license agreement makes it easier for faculty to form new companies

Friday, August 19, 2016

LAWRENCE — A new type of licensing agreement now available to faculty members at the University of Kansas is making it easier for them to take lab discoveries and spin them out into new startup companies.

Nikki Cheng, associate professor of pathology and laboratory medicine at KU Medical Center and founder of Fennik Life Sciences LLC, is the first faculty member to take advantage of the new Swift Startup license agreement.

Unlike the typical license agreement, which includes various upfront costs for the startup founder, the Swift Startup license agreement is a backend-loaded structure with no upfront payments, no past patent costs, no annual minimum fees, no minimum royalties, one low flat royalty rate or success fee. The agreement is not negotiable, which enables KU faculty entrepreneurs like Cheng to quickly and easily license their technology into a new startup company.

“This type of agreement will help KU companies by allowing them to invest in the company rather than paying back the university when the company is new and trying to get off the ground,” said Julie Nagel, associate vice chancellor for innovation and collaboration and president of KU Innovation & Collaboration, the office sponsoring the Swift Startup license agreement. “We believe this is another great tool to help encourage KU researchers to translate their discoveries into new companies and new marketplace solutions.”

The specific terms and conditions of the license agreement are listed at the KU Innovation & Collaboration website.

Cheng’s company, Fennik Life Sciences LLC, is focused on developing innovative research tools for the life sciences research community. Its first product is a cell culture device that closely models a three-dimensional environment for living tissue.

Cheng said her idea sprang from discovering limitations of animal and cell culture models in her lab. Cheng, who researches breast cancer progression, said traditional ways to simulate how cancer may respond to a drug in the body involve either mice or culturing cells as a flat layer on a plate.

Both of those methods offer some disadvantages, she said, so she worked with a postdoctoral researcher in her lab to develop a new model. The new device offers a skeletal framework that allows the user to put cells in specific locations with an organized tissue structure.

She recognized that her new idea may be worthwhile to others, and began reaching out to recruit others to help her with the business. After attending Startup School@KU, an entrepreneurship training program through KUIC and the School of Business, Cheng took advantage of the new Swift Startup license agreement to establish her company.

“I had virtually no business expertise, and we needed a way to get that experience and build a framework for our company,” Cheng said. “This Swift Startup program provided an easy avenue to license the technology and start Fennik.”

Fennik is one of 35 existing KU startup companies. A number of these startups are located in the Bioscience & Technology Business Center, an incubator network with locations in Lawrence and at KU Medical Center housing more than 30 tenant companies.



The University of Kansas is a major comprehensive research and teaching university. The university's mission is to lift students and society by educating leaders, building healthy communities and making discoveries that change the world. The KU News Service is the central public relations office for the Lawrence campus.

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