University of Tennessee Research Foundation President

Founded in 1935, the University of Tennessee Research Foundation (UTRF) is believed to be the second-oldest university technology transfer organization in the nation. UTRF is a non-profit organization with offices and research programs on the flagship campus in Knoxville, the Institute of Agriculture, the Institute for Public Service, the Health Science Center in Memphis, the Space Institute in Tullahoma, the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, and the University of Tennessee at Martin. 

UTRF and its employees strive to benefit the people of Tennessee and beyond by promoting the commercialization of intellectual property, encouraging an entrepreneurial culture, contributing to economic development, and supporting research and education. 

UTRF understands that its most valuable assets are the University’s internationally-acclaimed researchers, scientists and inventors. UTRF also benefits from the University’s unique partnerships – e.g., its collaborative efforts with the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) promises to play a major role in setting the global science agenda. 

UTRF functions as a third-party facilitator for commercializing intellectual property created within the University’s research areas, including: agriculture, animal health, chemistry, energy, engineering, healthcare, materials science, research tools, software, etc. As a conduit between academia and the private sector, UTRF is charged with identifying, protecting, marketing, and licensing the University’s proprietary technologies to industry, investors, and entrepreneurs.  

Overview of the Role 

The UTRF president serves as the chief executive officer of the University of Tennessee Research Foundation (UTRF).  UTRF is a board-managed, non-profit, 501(c)(3) organization that promotes the transfer and commercialization of UT intellectual property, encourages an entrepreneurial culture, contributes to state and regional economic development, and promotes research and education to benefit the people of Tennessee and beyond.   

While UTRF is a separate entity from UT, it provides assistance and resources to the research activities of faculty, staff, and students at all campuses and institutes across the UT System.  The UTRF President also oversees and has fiduciary responsibility for UTRF’s five wholly-owned subsidiary companies.   

The UTRF president will be a UT officer or employee, nominated by the UT president, and elected by the UTRF board. The UTRF president reports directly to the UT president and serves at the pleasure of the UTRF Board. 

The Opportunity 

The president has overall responsibility for the strategic, programmatic, and financial leadership of UTRF.  S/He works collaboratively with the UTRF team to develop and champion a shared vision, establish organizational goals, create strategic plans, and sets long-range direction for the organization.  The UTRF president also directs UTRF policy development and ensures implementation of administrative operations follow applicable policies, rules, and regulations.    

The UTRF President will be an experienced technology transfer or business development professional who provides leadership and direction to foster successful strategic alliance outcomes. This senior leader will propose and manage the implementation of complex and significant programmatic initiatives that broadly support UT’s innovation enterprise.  

S/He will provide direction in multiple areas of business, including the development and management of subsidiary companies or other specialized mechanisms to help promote university priorities.    

The UTRF president oversees the allocation of all UTRF resources including funding from the UTRF operating agreement with UT, royalty revenues, investments, and project income. S/He is responsible for hiring and retaining staff, career coaching, and professional development. The UTRF president evaluates the performance of the organization and develops staffing and resource plans accordingly. As the CEO, the UTRF president is responsible for the financial viability, compliance, and overall success of the organization.   

The UTRF President will sit on the board and has fiduciary responsivity for UTRF’s five wholly-owned subsidiary companies. These companies include TennEra LLC, Collaborative Composite Solutions Corporation (CCS, Corp), Cherokee Farm Development Corporation (CFDC), Cherokee Farm Partners Incorporated (CFPI), and Clinical Trials Network of Tennessee (CTN2). S/he will also oversee the standing of new companies that support university projects and priorities as well as the thoughtful unwinding of such entities as necessary.     

The UTRF President serves as a key advisor to university leadership on programmatic priorities in various innovation and commercialization areas that have university-wide impact. This strategic leader will represent UTRF throughout the state and on high-visibility projects. 

Read the full position specification here.

The Successful Candidate

Technical Requirements:     

  • Master’s Degree required.
  • Terminal degree (Ph.D., M.D., etc.) in a scientific field, MBA or Juris Doctorate (J.D.) with focus and experience in technology transfer preferred.
  • Ten years of progressively responsible administrative experience.  
  • Experience in technology transfer and business development within a major research organization, agency or university.   
  • Broad knowledge and understanding of best practices within research administration, licensing and contracting, experience in external engagement and success in developing partnerships internally and externally.   
  • Experience in a multi-campus university system environment is preferred.   
  • Understanding of board governance and operations of non-profit organizations is strongly preferred.   
  • Strong knowledge of industry standards, trends and/or regulatory requirements.  
  • Demonstrated experience and achievements with strategic planning and goal achievement.  
  • Expertise in current research methodology, laws and regulations.  
  • In-depth knowledge of intellectual property law, policy, and practice.  
  • Strong track record of success.  
  • Compelling research, analytical, and writing abilities.  
  • Knowledge of and commitment to affirmative action and equal employment opportunity.    

Interpersonal Requirements:     

The UTRF president will have significant knowledge and understanding of technology transfer, commercialization, entrepreneurship, and strategic partnerships.  Specific skills include:  

  • demonstrated ability to maintain a “big picture” strategic view and to be a problem-solver; and ability to lead, plan and manage change.    
  • verified leadership skills and abilities.  
  • commitment to quality and integrity.   
  • exceptional interpersonal, negotiation and political acumen skills.   
  • ability to influence people, solve problems, trouble shoot, think creatively, and resolve conflicts.  
  • capacity to lead and collaborate with campuses to facilitate commercialization and related initiatives system-wide.  
  • adeptness in communicating complex issues to a variety of constituents and stakeholders, both written and verbal.  
  • ability and willingness to delegate effectively and to hold direct reports accountable.  
  • strong skills in communications and interpersonal relations.  
  • skilled decision-maker, with transparency in decision-making and management.  
  • excellent oral, written and presentation skills; exceptional listening skills.  
  • ability to make good, consistent, and fair decisions (based on fact and data).  
  • ability to work with cross-functional teams and to foster teamwork.  
  • ability to multi-task.  
  • capacity to travel frequently.  

Additional Behaviors:  

The successful candidate for UTRF president will exhibit qualities of:  

  • emotional maturity 
  • genuineness 
  • self-confidence 
  • common sense 
  • judgment 
  • fairness 
  • creativity 
  • discretion 
  • decisiveness 
  • political savvy 
  • diplomacy 
  • tact 
  • resiliency 
  • adaptability 
  • courage of convictions  
  • tolerance for ambiguity  
  • unquestioned integrity  
  • trustworthiness  

Salary & Benefits 

Compensation for the position will be competitive and commensurate with qualifications and experience within the established market range. Additionally, the University offers a comprehensive benefits package that includes excellent healthcare and tuition benefits for employees and their families, generous retirement benefits, a wide variety of professional development opportunities, supportive work and family benefits and much more. Additionally, Tennessee residents do not pay a state income tax. For more information on the University of Tennessee’s benefits, visit https://hr.tennessee.edu/benefits/

Procedure for Consideration 

The University of Tennessee Research Foundation (UTRF) has exclusively retained Gardner Innovation Search Partners to manage this search. Gardner Innovation Search Partners is the top technology transfer recruiter in the world, and is committed to presenting a diverse slate of candidates who possess the skills, expertise, and enthusiasm to thrive in this role.  

Interested applicants should send their resume and any questions to: 

Lisa Rooney, Recruiter – lisa@gardnerisp.com  740-251-7390 

Gardner Innovation Search Partners is committed to diversity in both people and ideas. Read more about our commitment to diversity and inclusion here: https://gardnerisp.com/diversity-inclusion/.  

Knoxville & The State of Tennessee  

Nestled in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains along the Tennessee River, Knoxville is a thriving Southern city known for its great outdoors, diverse music scene, and a wide variety of eateries. It is nationally known for its Urban Wilderness, located less than three miles from downtown, with more than 50 miles of natural trails. A vibrant downtown, located less than a mile from the heart of the UT campus, offers live entertainment, unique shopping, and outstanding local dining and brews. 

With a population of more than 192,000, it is both the oldest and the third-largest city in the state of Tennessee; only Memphis and Nashville are larger, Knoxville is a one-hour drive from Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the U.S. National Park Service’s most-visited site. Knoxville also is within a day’s drive or less to many major metropolitan areas, including Atlanta, Chicago, Washington, D.C., and the Atlantic coast. UT’s Neyland Stadium is one of the country’s largest sports venues. Among its many accolades, Knoxville was named one of the Top 10 Best Affordable Places to Live by Livability.com and in top 10 among big cities in Travel + Leisure’s “America’s Favorite Cities”. 

Tennessee is a state with approximately 7.2 million people, four large metropolitan areas, two time zones, and an economy ranked*11th best in the United States. While more Tennessee jobs and economic activity today are industrial or knowledge-based than agrarian, farming and agricultural production remain fundamental to the state’s economy. Major outputs include textiles, cotton, cattle, and electrical power – thanks to being home to Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA). As a state, Tennessee has fared well during the COVID – 19 pandemic, its finances are robust and the State continues to attract investment nationally. As a recent example, Ford Motor Company has committed to a $5.6 Billion creation of an electric vehicle plant (“Blue Oval City”) that will be located in Middle Tennessee, in proximity to University of Tennessee Martin Campus with potential for future opportunities for that campus and beyond. 

From the Mississippi River on the western border to the Appalachian Mountains on the eastern border, Tennessee spans a distance of more than 400 miles. Major geographic and cultural diversity are evident from the delta and farm areas of the west to the rolling hills surrounding Nashville in Middle Tennessee, to the mountainous landscape of East Tennessee. 

Major corporations headquartered in Tennessee include FedEx, AutoZone, International Paper, all based in Memphis; Pilot Corp., Discovery Networks, and Regal Entertainment Group based in Knoxville; Eastman Chemical based in Kingsport; Nissan’s North American headquarters in Franklin; and the headquarters of Caterpillar Financial, Bridgestone-Firestone and HCA, all based in Nashville.