Innovation Institute ready for another big year, as new director takes helm

Evan FacherEvan Facher, the new director and vice chancellor of the University of Pittsburgh Innovation Institute, plans to continue the institute’s record-breaking streak now that he’s at the helm.

Located on the first floor of the Gardner Steel Conference Center, the institute was created in 2013 to promote entrepreneurship at Pitt through offering educational services for Pitt inventors, faculty and students, and entrepreneurs throughout Western Pennsylvania through its affiliation with the Institute for Entrepreneurial Excellence.

“To be successful, we need to create this culture of innovation and entrepreneurship on campus,” Facher said. “And we should be agnostic of where those ideas came from, and we should help anybody on campus or off campus to … have those dreams come to life.”

Some of the services offered include educational programming on how to protect intellectual property, how to commercialize products through licensing and more, according to the university.  

With a team of roughly 60, including 10 entrepreneurs-in-residence, the Innovation Institute has broken Pitt’s record for startups for three years in a row -- with 13 in fiscal year 2016, 15 in 2017 and now, 23 in 2018, according to the University. In addition, 98 patents were awarded for Pitt-based innovations in fiscal year 2018, just short of 2017’s record of 102.

Some inventions produced by the institute include an antidote for carbon monoxide poisoning and an augmented reality training program for rising health-care professionals.

According to the University, the institute has broken several other records, including:

  • 363 invention disclosures in fiscal year 2018 — up from 329 last year.
  • 162 option deals, up from 146 in fiscal year 2017.

Facher, the former president and CEO of SironRX Therapeutics, which specialized in biotechnology, worked as interim director for the institute from August 2017 to early August 2018 when he was named director. He joined the institute in January 2014, a few months after it  was formed in November 2013.

He’s seen a myriad of changes in both the Institute and Pitt since he first joined that have contributed to the consistent record-breaking.

One of the most influential changes, Facher said, was Pitt relaxing its conflict-of-interest policies to make it easier for inventors to commercialize their ideas themselves or with other partners.

“There's been policies that we've put in place at … our level to enhance the efficiencies so that we're not seen as a roadblock, but we're seen as kind of concierge that's trying to help people on campus move their ideas out the door as quickly as we can get them,” Facher said.

He also attributes the record-breaking streak to a balance of business-minded employees with technical experts, such as scientists or intellectual property specialists, to provide a range of educational programing.

Support from Chancellor Patrick Gallagher and his senior administration also has been crucial to the institute’s success, Facher said.

In order to keep the institute growing, Facher said he’s focused on three main areas for the next year:

  • Developing better relationships with the Pitt community to bring more people, and their ideas, through the front doors of the institute.
  • Making sure his employees inside the institute are offered trainings and other developmental opportunities
  • Engaging business owners off campus.

“In a short period of time we've made dramatic changes, which I think a lot of people on campus and off campus are really excited about,” Facher said. “And we're also just scratching the surface of the potential that we have to be an even bigger player in the innovation economy locally and throughout the U.S.”




Donovan Harrell, or 412-383-9905