Inventor Interview- Ciesla

This is our first of a series we have started called the “Inventor Interview”. We will be interviewing different inventors that have received patents through our office and hope to share with you their work and how it has come to be.

This week we have interviewed Lukasz M. Ciesla, an assistant professor in the Department of Biological Sciences here at UA. Below is the recording of our interview with him.

The members of his team are as follows: Research Associate- Dr. Urmila Maitra, Postdoctoral trainee/Visiting scholar- Dr. Ceren Zekiye Arituluk, PhD student- Cayman Stephen, Undergrads: Jeffrey Steltzner, Joe Holden, Jessica Irvin, Josiah Sowell, John Conger, Maggie Owens, Nicholas Beyer, Patrick Veihman, Paula Correal, Sydney Towsend, Thomas Harding, Yani Saferite and Robby Bustamante.

Click here to read more about Lukasz Ciesla.

OTT: “So, we know that you are from Poland.”

“Yep”

How did you end up coming here and then to the University of Alabama?”

“I did my post-doc at the NIA, that’s the National Institute of Aging. It started in 2014, and after 3 years I was just trying to find a job. Actually, I was interviewing both in Europe and here but the University of Alabama gave me a good offer, like the startup they offered was very interesting and competitive compared to the European universities. So, that’s how I ended up here. I also liked the idea of the way that the biology department is set up here. There were a lot of people with very diverse backgrounds. When I was thinking about developing my own research program, I was also thinking about possible collaborations. And, when I was interviewing here I actually learned that there are a lot of people that I can actually collaborate with. So, there were multiple things that made me decide to come here.”

“So, let’s kind of backup for a second and talk generally about what it is that you researched and then maybe give us a little peek into what motivated you to choose this line of study.”

“So, basically as of right now my research program, the general focus of the lab is to identify new potential drug leads. Mostly, we are focusing on neurodegeneration and diseases like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s. So, back at the NIA there was a group we collaborated with. You might have heard because recently it has gotten a lot of attention. You might have heard about things like, for example, intermittent fasting or intensive vigorous workout. So, the group we collaborated with proved that both intermittent fasting and intensive vigorous workouts are not only good for your body but they are good for your brain and they actually result in our protection. So, what we have observed is that some compounds present in plants can actually activate the same response as intermittent fasting or vigorous exercise, too. The only problem is with plants and phytochemicals is the complexity of the sample. So, you have an extract that has hundreds of thousands of different compounds and it is extremely difficult to identify individual compounds that are responsible for this protective effect. So, when I was setting up my lab I decided that I wanted to focus on identification of potential drug leads from nature focusing on Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s disease but I wanted to also develop tools that also will allow me to identify these compounds way faster. So, what the people are doing right now in the majority of labs that are focusing on drug discovery from nature is that they are actually identifying different compounds and testing them one by one which is very laborious, time-consuming and actually end up identifying something which is pretty common and already well studied. So, when I came here we started developing new tools to give us the chance to actually fish out those compounds which are pharmacologically active. That’s what we actually applied for the patent with Dr. Bao and are submitting a grant for that.”

“Oh wow, that’s exciting!”

“Yes, so there are like two main pathways in my lab: neuroprotection and development of tools that allow us to identify these neuroprotective compounds way faster and more efficiently compared to what these other people are doing.”

“So, let’s go back to this intermittent fasting for a minute, because that’s like all the rage. Every Instagram person that sells fitness online is like ‘Intermittent fasting’, so you’re telling me that you can give us a pill and we’re just going to intermittent fast that way?”

“ Well, I can tell you that what we are doing is that we are just trying to find… well you are mentioning the Instagram and someone actually on Twitter today because they know me and know that I am actually tweeting a lot about fitness and all that stuff and so they sent me and said ‘I saw this and thought of you, it sounds like they are finally starting to catch on.’ and it was an article about Chris Pratt doing intermittent fasting.”

“Oh wow, there you go!”

“So, actually a lot of social media people and actresses do it because of focusing on losing weight and being more lean and this is an awesome way to do it. There are a lot of youtube channels that teach you how to do it, it’s awesome stuff. So what we are trying to do is find the compound that can mimic the effect. But, the misunderstanding here is the compounds that we are going to develop are not going to make you lose weight because losing the weight is from when you are fasting your metabolism switches from glucose to fat and your body is basically using fat tissue. That is why you are leaner and are losing weight. The compounds that we are developing are compounds that will mimic the neuroprotective effect. In the case of intermittent fasting, the way it works is… well it is already well established how it actually is neuroprotective. Like I said, when you are fasting you deplete glucose and glycogen stores so your body switches Plan B and says ‘okay, we need to start using something else for fuel’ and it switches to fat and starts processing fat. The side products of fat metabolism are ketones. Actually, ketones are not only fuel but also stressors. So, a high level of ketones, if you keep not eating, will cause you to go into ketosis which is not good for you. However, if you it intermittently, it’s fine. What actually happens is the ketones are not only fuel for your cells, but actually they also switch on different stress response pathways that evolve in our body to protect us from different forms of biological and non-biological stress and this switch on actually causes neuroprotection. So, what we are trying to mimic is we are trying to find compounds that can mimic this neuroprotective effect and actually switch on those pathways that are neuroprotective. We will not be able to mimic the weight-losing effect, you will have to do that yourself.”

“So, I still have to go to the gym?”

“Yes, you still have to go to the gym and not eat. So, I have actually been doing intermittent fasting for almost a year…”

“And you like it?”

“The best runs… I usually run a lot and trying to fit a workout into my busy schedule is hard but I am doing my best, so the best workouts actually are during this fasting phase. So, usually what I do is just before I break my fast I do the workout. So, during the weekend is easy because I can do it during the morning and then eat lunch. During the week, it’s way more difficult. So, I usually fast for 16-18 hours and in the evening I am trying to do my run or workout. And it works amazingly, the body really responds well. If you are working out or are physically active, personal trainers will tell you a lot of different things about eating before or eating after, there are just so many different philosophies but the intermittent fasting philosophy is pretty easy. As you can see, a lot of people are doing it. It’s not only good for you, but it’s actually good for your brain as well. But, as I said, in our case we are just focusing on the brain. There will not be a pill that you can just take and you’re going to lose weight.”

So, you’re not trying to sell us some junk science pill?”

“No, no, no.”
“That was not in the grant today?”

“No no, so as of now we are actually… that’s the meeting I have after you guys. We actually have compounds that we are observing that have an awesome effect. This is another thing, too, that we are thinking of patenting. This is about compounds that we are isolating for something that people actually dump. I cannot speak about it openly yet, though.”

“Please don’t. As your pseudo-patent counsel, please don’t.”
“So, the compounds that we are getting are from someone.  People are producing something, but there is a waste, and we are using this waste to get these compounds that might be neuroprotective. I actually was inspired, there is a guy I have been following on Twitter named Devin Sinclair and he is the big guy about resveratrol. You might have heard about resveratrol. He got like a $5 million grant from a company from CA because they get the resveratrol from the skin of grapes. If you use grapes to produce wine, you have all this waste and he was able to use this waste that they were dumping. So, we have those compounds that we see that are also very neuroprotective and I am jokingly saying to my students that we will be contacting companies, but first I think that we need to have a patent first.”
“We would agree.”

“So, maybe we will be contacting you guys next year.”

“So, you’re very active on twitter. Can you first tell us what the potions lab is? We saw Labsgiving with your team, as well.”
“Did you see our Christmas?”

No, we didn’t see Christmas!”
“There was a post about our team and our Christmas party that we had.”

“So, how big is your team? The Labsgiving looked pretty big.”

“Yes, so as of right now we do have a research associate who was hired as a postdoc, but I got some money from a company we collaborated with and she was transferred to the position of  research associate. I have a postdoctoral trainee who just joined me from Turkey.”

What was their name?”

“Ceren”

“Oh yes I think we saw a post about him, you went to go pick him up at the airport?”

“Yes,  you have been through everything!”
“We are very thorough. If you had a Wikipedia page, we would’ve read that, too. So, he just got here then?”

“Yes, so actually I’m not sure if you noticed but the Twitter is pretty young. I started at the end of July, so four months maybe. I’m trying to be super active about it. Let’s finish one topic and then we can finish more about Twitter. The team… the research associate is Dr. Urmila Maitra. Then, I have a postroctoral trainee who just joined us, who is Dr. Ceren Zekiye Arituluk. I have one graduate student, Cayman Stephen. Another prospective graduate student will most likely be joining me in the fall of 2019. It all depends if the graduate committee approves his application. I already interviewed him and told the committee I’m really interested in this person, but he has to meet all the different criteria so we will see. And, I have also a cohort of twelve undergrads: Jeffrey Steltzner, Joe Holden, Jessica Irvin, Josiah Sowell, John Conger, Maggie Owens, Nicholas Beyer, Patrick Veihman, Paula Correal, Sydney Towsend, Thomas Harding, Yani Saferite and Robby Bustamante. So, it’s around 15 students. We actually have been working on a logo and t-shirts, I’m not sure if you’ve seen them with the cat and the compounds.”
“I guess we haven’t seen everything! You’ve got merch and everything, we need to get in on this.”

“Yes, so I am kind of a cat lady. Some of my students also like them. I think I posted it somewhere, my students are working on the logo. One of my students Joe designed it, let me see if I can find it. You know the potions lab is all about the Hogwarts stuff, but we actually produce a lot of potions and extracts. We most recently made some fly juice, I posted that if you have seen it.”

“No, we missed that.”

“Yeah, it was a colorful thing. So, here is the logo.”
“That’s really cool. I like that.”

“So, we are just working on getting t-shirts. It’s going to be on the back of a t-shirt and the front is just going to be ‘Ciesla research team’ with the university logo. I actually need to contact someone to see if I can use the university logo.”

“Yeah, that’s not us.”

“So, this is actually… I didn’t show this to you but we do a lot of different potions like this is how we produce… we do a lot of stuff. This is from a mushroom, a really toxic mushroom so we decided to do ‘potions lab’.”

I feel like you’re really missing an opportunity to incorporate a Snape (Professor Snape of Harry Potter fame) reference here.”

“Really?”

“So, are you a fan of Severus Snape?”

“Well, of course I am.”

“How long until you start teaching Defense Against the Dark Arts?”

“Well, it depends on the level of the course and if the curriculum committee would approve that.”

“The next thing we know you’re on the other side of campus in the justice department building. Should we go ahead and alert the dean for you or?”

“Well, it will be a new dean soon. He is going to retire.”
“Who is that?”

“Dean Olin. So, he announced he will be retiring next year and now the search committee is forming for a new dean. So, maybe I can negotiate with him and my potions lab.”

“Is your current lab in an actual dungeon or?”

“No, I wish. It’s just here on the second floor. It’s not a dungeon. Getting back to Twitter, I got the stuff about the podcast and also started collaborated with a guy who is crazy about phermesis from New York and I am preparing a story about our lab and our research for his website, well trying to find the time to do that. I probably will work on it during the weekend.”

“So, maybe talk more about Twitter in a general sense. I think one thing that our office struggles with is a lot of the topics that we get through our office, while they’re all really cool, they’re very niche. So, trying to appeal to a broader audience is typically a challenge. So, have you seen success with this? I know you said it was only four months old, but I mean are you seeing… what sort of effects are you seeing that are positive or negative with the use of social media?”

“Well, when I started using Twitter it was just to build the brand of the lab and get the message out there. But there are different ways to build your brand. First of all, the research you’re doing, the publications, the patents… that’s already important. Twitter is not going to replace it. But there is a broader audience. We are doing a lot of stuff and it’s very important for not only scientists. The most important thing about doing a Twitter is to find a way to present this niche product as something that is actually important for not only scientists. For example, I’m not trying to use too much “sciencey” jargon. My general idea is selling the idea of intermittent stressing and showing how our lab contributes to this whole idea of intermittent stressing phermesis and it’s a challenge because the problem with us scientists is that we usually do not have the ability to properly communicate science to non-scientists. I think it’s just important because it shows us that we are not those people closing themselves in the ivory towers and doing something that is meaningless, but we are doing something that actually changes people’s lives. When I started my independent career as a PI, I just decided that one of the goals I have as a new professor is not only to produce science and to produce new data. I don’t want to be considered as a machine to produce data and publications and patents. I want to show the broader public that this is important what we are doing and it can actually help you. So what I am also doing, for example, tomorrow I am going to a middle school. It’s one of the magnet schools and we are doing some simple experiments with kids about chemicals and so we are just trying to also show the kids that science is fun and it is also something that you could consider as your future career.”

“Do you think kids these days have kind of the patience and perseverance to stick it out for these longer term research projects that we see?  In society we are such an instantaneous results society these days and research projects take years.”

“Well it is hard for me to judge because I don’t work with kids on a daily basis, but I do actually work with undergrads and undergrads, when they come to my lab, usually do not have any science experience. One of the things I have been noticing and that they have been telling me is that they do not realize how much work it is to make things work. They come with this idea that I am going to come to the lab, mix some things, and in two days I am going to have spectacular results and I will be able to brag about it, get publications, patents, and one million dollar grants. But, the first thing they actually learn is the patience and the other thing, whenever I talk to people and interview them for the lab, I tell them that in order to become a scientist, other than being patient is to define the way to deal with rejection and deal with negativity. You have to grow a thick skin and you are going to hear “no” multiple times. You are going to be criticized multiple times. Reviewers will be vicious. Grad panels will be vicious. You will be criticized by your own peers and you have to truly try to find a way to deal with that and make something positive out of it. This is not something that everyone has the ability to do, but I think there are still people that have what it takes to do it, they just need to learn it. You are right, as a society we just want something instant and want to have the results really quickly. But patience and perseverance is something you learn. You just need to find a joy and chase the rabbit, which is the long term goal. Sometimes the rabbit is just very, very fast.”

“So, maybe we will segway into some more fun questions, so to speak. So, you have been in America for 3, 4 years?”
“I came September 2nd, 2014. So, 4 years.”

And you were in…”

“Baltimore.”

“What was the biggest culture shock for you from Poland to Baltimore and then Baltimore to Alabama, and from Poland to Alabama?”

“Well, honestly when you come from Europe to the USA, there are differences but I was surprised that there was nothing extremely surprising to me that made me feel shocked because in the era of globalization, in the Western world we function the same way, we watch the same movies, we live the same way, we eat the same food, but the only thing that was different for me was that people in the United States, the first time I came to Baltimore, were more friendly. In Europe, we are usually very hesitant towards people we don’t know, so we barely talk to strangers and say like “I don’t know you, why would I bother talking to you?”. So, at the grocery store when you have those tiny chit-chats…”

“I’m sure in Alabama, especially.”

“Yeah, “sweetheart”, “y’all”… people in the South here are way more friendly than on the East coast, so generally if someone asked me about the big culture shock, I did not experience that actually. Maybe it’s that before I came here I was actually traveling a lot and I just experienced a lot of… I mean I was traveling a lot around Europe and, like I said, the Western world is similar and the way we see the world, the values that we share, are the same, so there was nothing very different. I think maybe for people coming from the Far East, they would maybe have a culture shock. But if you come from another Western or European country, it’s maybe just that people are friendlier. I felt welcome from the very beginning, so there was nothing like a huge culture shock for me.”

“Well, I ask because both of us have studied abroad in Spain and the big culture shock you get there is that things just shut down in the middle of the afternoon for the siesta.”

“Yeah we don’t do that in Poland, but I had a lot of Spanish friends at the NIA and you think about the stereotypes and sometimes their behavior was very stereotypical like being late for everything. But actually, I am a talker myself so I get along with those people.”

Yeah I remember my first weekend there…”

“Where in Spain?”

“I was in Pamplona and she was in Valencia. I remember going out, we were some students just going out and trying to get dinner and we were going to see the nightlife scene. It was 11:30, which is a normal time to go out, and people were eating dinner, like a full course meal.”
“Well actually if you think about life expectancy, and I can actually make a tie to what we are doing… So, as of right now, the longest living people live in Japan. However, the newest data shows that in 2050, Spain will be #1. Usually, they skip breakfast and they kind of follow the intermittent fasting diet. Yeah, so it’s actually sort of the philosophy of intermittent fasting. I usually also eat one meal, which is pretty close to me going to bed. So, Spaniards… I think I actually posted it as well, it’s actually Sinclair, the guy who got five million dollars, who posted it. He is big on aging, and Spain is going to overtake Japan in 2050, so the life expectancy of Spaniards will be the longest in the world.”

“Do you think this is because of their commitment to the siesta or…”

“Well, I think it is the quality of the food, the type of the food they are eating, and there are a lot of things that can influence it. Longevity, it’s difficult to grasp it.”

  • People walk into the office. –

“So, that was actually Urmila and Ceren. Well, Spain, that is actually very interesting for me because people in the Mediterranean area are known to live longer. There was always the Mediterranean diet, red wine, the French paradox. I’m not sure if you have heard about the French paradox, the French eat a lot of fat. They eat butter with everything and just a lot of cream and whatever. I love escargot, oh my god I love escargot. That’s what I miss about Baltimore, we had a great French restaurant. We lived in the part of Baltimore called Canton. We had the Canton square close to us that was kind of a lot of different restaurants and our favorite was a French restaurant. They had amazing escargot. Not many people like snails. But anyway, French people eat a lot of fat but it was considered that because they drink a lot of wine it was contributing to their longevity. So even though they were eating the fat, they were living pretty healthy with the resveratrol from red wine. Like I said, we don’t really know, but we are just guessing that the quality of the food that they are actually relaxing a lot because, in the case of intermittent fasting, they are posting on Twitter the “intermittent challenge” and what is important in all of this is “intermittent”, so stressing your body with things like not eating or vigorous exercise, this is stress for your body and then releasing stress. The best release for stress is sleep. You need to have a high-quality sleep, even if you are a bodybuilder or you’re really committed to fitness, that is one of the first things they are going to tell you: sleep a lot. Arnold Schwarzenegger when he was pretty active and still in the body building business, he was actually sleeping 8 hours, going to a workout, having a nap, and then going to another workout. He was sleeping a lot, so you need to give your body time to build resilience. So, if you don’t sleep a lot you may lose all of the positive effects. This is actually something in America we are missing, we go go go work work work work work. It kind of is like, people brag about if they don’t sleep. A lot of people are working until two and they think it’s something they should be bragging about. It’s considered that if you sleep eight hours you are just weak, but that’s not true. You should be actually finding time to sleep and relax, giving your body time to build resilience.”

“A lot of students especially, being in undergrad, kids are saying “oh I only sleep five hours a night.”

“That’s not something you should be bragging about.”

“Right, they won’t remember anything for their test the next day.”

“Right.”

“But, if it has to do with the quality of food that Spain’s doing right then the lady I lived with could make some mean paella. You know paella originated in Valencia, so I had some good paella during that time. If you looked, I don’t think you could even find it here.”

“We don’t have a Spanish restaurant here.”

We kind of have Tex-Mex and that’s about it. I take it you’re not getting any kielbasa here?”

“Well, I’m not really a big fan of Polish cuisine. It’s just fatty and you know, peirogi’s, my favorite is the kind stuffed with cabbage and mushrooms. But, kielbasa I’m not a fan of. People who know me know that I don’t like things that are mixed and mushed. I need to see what I am eating. For example, I don’t like mashed potatoes. I need to have my potatoes fully a potato, not like a mushy something. For me, it’s all about texture.”

“I agree with you, I don’t like mashed potatoes.”

“And, you know, for kielbasa it’s just minced meat and I don’t really know what is inside so I’m like “ehhh”. I’m very particular and if I feel cartilage or something it’s a no from me. It’s the end of a meal for me. If I am eating chicken or something, I know it is kind of stupid. Even if I’m super hungry, if I feel something in my mouth that has an odd texture I shut down and it’s the end of a meal for me.”

“So, what did you get for Labsgiving?”

“So, for Thanksgiving we went out.”

“Were they here for Thanksgiving? (referring to the his team members that had previously come into the room)”

“Yes. Well, Urmila was not and Ceren was not in the States yet for Thanksgiving. But, for the Christmas party we did like a potluck. I bought a cake, but I prepared a Polish veggie salad. It was prepared as a side, but was a variation of potato salad. It’s a variety of vegetables, mostly root vegetables, which you can imagine in winter you have a lot of root vegetables. So, we prepared that and the students brought their stuff. It was fun. I posted the picture of it last Thursday, December 6th.”

“Okay, we’ll have to go check it out. Do you want to bring in the girls?”

“I will go see if they are here. They may have gone to the lab.”

*some of this team members come in*

“So, this is Urmila. She is the research associate position. Finally we were able to transfer her and Ceren just joined us last weekend. Visiting scholar/post-troc”

“Where in Turkey are you from?”

“I am from Ankara.”

“The capital of Turkey, right. I went to Istanbul, very beautiful. And I have been to the Istanbul airport.”

“Ataturk right?”

“Y’all sit, we are on our way out.”

“No, we’re getting a start on our intermittent fasting.”

“We are all about intermittent challenges.”

“So, I did mention it but not the dates of it, because we are still getting some stuff published next year. But, I would say that intermittence was the key word here in case of challenging your body. Urmila here is challenging some fruit flies. Urmila did fly research before, and now she is using her experience with that to stress the flies. We just feed them with different stuff.”

“What would you guys say is one of your favorite things about what it is you do or research here? Your work in general.”

“It’s a great department, especially this lab is really fun to work with.”

“You don’t have to say that, I can leave!”

“Haha, but the things I like is that we are a very friendly bunch to people and it is nice when you have people you are not tensed to work with because you spend a lot of time in the lab. The science that we are doing is pretty exciting. I have been in this lab since August and what we are doing is getting good results.”
“She knows when I get excited about things, I keep nagging them about it. So I keep texting her even if she is not here, like can you send me the results, can you send me the data, can you send me the graph. And it’s not because I want to be pushy I am just excited about the data. I do the intermittent fasting myself, and we were trying to do intermittent fasting with the flies but flies are not very easy. They are very sensitive.”

“Depending on how long you are fasting, you have to optimize how long they can go and there are other kind of stressors.”

“So, what is the average lifespan of a fly?”

“The ones that we are using are 60-70 days.”

“Oh that’s longer that I was expecting. I thought you’d get a day.”

“The flies that we are using in our research are like 3-5 days old because we are using a Parkinson’s model and then we are trying to like screen a bunch of phytochemicals to see if we can delay or stop the neurodegeneration we see.”

“And the secret compounds I told you about. We were saying we were going to be contacting people, but it would probably be best if we had a patent on something before we contact the industry. So, maybe in the future, because they are the Office of Technology Transfer, we might be reaching out to you guys when we have more data to support it. As of now, we are very very… the hypothesis we have is confirmed by at least the set we have tested. We still have a lot of other things to do, so maybe next year we will have a full picture.”

“Well, awesome. Thank you so much for having us!”

“Thank you, bye!”

Two weeks ago, our office was privileged to take part in the AUTM Eastern Regional meeting in Raleigh, North Carolina. We learned a lot, met new cool people, and ate some really great food. It was such a wild ride, it took weeks to settle down and write this blog post. (Editor’s Note: This was supposed to publish last week — Oops.)

We would be remiss if we didn’t share some of our experience with you. So without further ado, here are our top ten experiences from the AUTM Eastern Regional meeting.

10: TSA Pre-Check

For some of you this might seem trivial, and to those people I say you must have never experienced the sheer bliss that is TSA Pre-Check. Everyone knows there is no better way to start off a trip than by taking off your shoes and belt, digging through your carry-on for every possible electronic, and throwing away any stowaway liquid bottles. Then walking through the metal detector for it to go off, then you have to walk back through because that quarter you thought lost when you were paying for that biscuit you didn’t need was actually there the whole time. Wait, none of that is fun you say? It sure looked like it as we expediently strolled through the dedicated Pre-Check line and did none of it. We actually felt left out and thought about going back through and joining the seemingly endless wait time, then the awesomeness that is the speedy Pre-Check line hit us and we came to our senses.

9: Gigantic Turkey Legs

IMG_0005 autm eastern meeting: top ten

Rick and Chris with their turkey legs.

Our first night in Raleigh was spent dining with our friends from Meunier, Carlin, and Curfman LLC. Once everyone had found their way to the downtown Marriot, we marched to a quaint little restaurant called the Raleigh Times. The Raleigh Times was a dimly lit restaurant resembling an old fashioned reading parlor with menus printed to appear like a newspaper, which initially caused quite the confusion. After large helpings of nachos – topped with good ole Eastern style Carolina BBQ — and fried pickles were consumed, it was time for entrées. There was a wide range of food from my fish and chips to shrimp tacos to a single blueberry topped with balsamic dressing. The most
interesting entrée came when I looked to the opposite end of the table to our director, Rick Swatloski, and Chris Curfman eating a ginormous smoked turkey leg that could easily have been confused with a toddler’s leg. Seriously they were so huge, I began questioning whether I was in Raleigh for a high tech conference, or in Bedrock dining with Fred and Barney. The legs looked awesome and the entire meal was outstanding, culminating in banana pudding that was insistently ordered by our friend John Z. – who will get his moment in the spotlight later in the countdown.

8: Couch to 5K Goals in tact

I know eating heaping helpings of nachos, giant turkey legs, and banana pudding may not sound like we kept these goal intact, but we promise we did. See, our office is participating in a campus wide training program called Crimson Couch to 5K. During the program, we need to log our physical activity as we progress to a 5K. Let us tell you that throughout the entire conference we kept moving. We walked everywhere that was feasibly possible in dress attire. Scout’s honor.

7: Startup Ecosystems of the Research Triangle

During the first full day of conference, we sat in on a session detailing the inner workings of the startup and entrepreneurship ecosystems of Duke, North Carolina, and NC State. Despite their rivalries on the hardwood, these three schools work extremely well together. Seriously, Democrats and Republicans should come perform a case study of how people who don’t see eye to eye come together to achieve common goals. These three schools believed in putting the right people in the right places to see start up ideas succeed. So, maybe the idea was created at UNC, but a Duke student could have the connections and know how to get it to market. These two would then work together to bring the idea to market. It was really refreshing to hear. Another interesting aspect of their ecosystem is the Chancellor’s Innovation Fund. This fund allows for four to seven awards of up to $75,000 for university-based start-ups. It uses external reviews to help provide feedback to the entrepreneurs and allows the technology to get ready for licensing or add-on funding.

6: Reception at the Stockroom

To finish off day one was a networking reception at the Stockroom. It was walking distance from the hotel, so of course, we got our steps on and made it over. After all, we have to keep up our 5K goals. At the reception there were cavalcades of awesome such as good food, good beverages, and good conversation. Need I say more? No? Moving right along.

5: Software and Peer to Peer Lending

Software is seemly easy to develop and commercialize, which of course, means it is difficult to protect and defend. To help educate ourselves, so we can share with everyone at UA, we decided to check out the Protect and Accelerate: Commercialization of Software and Information Technology. Lots of interesting topics where discussed, but might be a bit techy for this blog post. Additionally, John Austin from Groundwork Labs provided copious peer to peer lending websites that can be used not only for software based business but anything under the sun. Definitely a great resource for our entrepreneurs!

4: Web Portal Submissions are Actually Read

You know those standardized web portals that all the big companies have? The ones that force you to fill out web forms and submit a text file? The same ones that you submit to and think no one is ever going to read this? Are we the only ones that think this? If you do think this, then we have good news for you. During one of the industry forums, we were given a glimmer of hope when the industry panel said there were dedicated personnel to making sure these submissions find the right department within the company. So keep posting, there is an actual person receiving and evaluating your tech.

3: Industry Lunch

One of the goals of AUTM meetings is to get industry people and tech transfer people together and Eastern Regional Meeting did not disappoint in this regard. All three of us got to eat lunch with various industry representatives. Since our technologies tend towards the natural sciences and engineering, we dined with representatives from Eastman Chemical and BASF. It was a great experience to learn more about the companies and what types of technologies they are seeking. We made some great connections for sure!

2: Design Patent Seminar

Admittedly, we were a bit green on design patents. Of course we knew what they were, but didn’t have much practical experience with them. We attended this session to support our aforementioned friend John Zurawski. John is a patent attorney at Pepper Hamilton in Philadelphia, who is goofy and ultra-likable. Naturally, we can relate to these traits. During his session, we were privileged to learn many things such as how to monetize design patents and that Rick has 30 pairs of Snoozie slippers. To say that John Z. rocked the stage and nailed the session would be putting it lightly. He took an otherwise mundane topic and turned it into an entertaining and engaging session. We were especially pumped to learn how design patents can be used to protect the user interface of software programs. Now, because of this session, we are starting to reconsider our stance on the patentability of software.

1: Twitter Traction

This may sound simple to some of you, but as a small office, this was awesome for us. We were able to capitalize on the small yet intimate audience at the Eastern Regional meeting. We gained new followers and found new accounts to follow. It was a good couple of days for @UAOTT. Below are some of our tweets from the meeting. We hope you will follow along, as we continue to grow and share our awesomeness.

That’s it. It was a great time and we can’t wait to go back next year. We hope you will join us next spring in San Diego for the national meeting, and next fall in Philadelphia!

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