Columbia University's three-in-one commercial venture

December 17, 1999

Columbia University created Morningside Ventures to define and implement a strategy that would be consistent with the university's mission and values while looking ahead. It is a for-profit enterprise, writes Ann Kirschner.

The relationship to faculty is consistent with well-established activities within the university, such as Columbia Innovation Enterprise. Faculty response has been excellent.

Morningside's activities fall into three areas: online course/content development (Columbia Online); technology transfer within new media (Columbia Technology); and incubation of new businesses (Columbia Enterprises).

Columbia Online will create courses with staff members and market and distribute them; this may involve a licence arrangement with a third party. It will also collaborate with groups within the university to develop marketing opportunities for content, rather than courses.

Columbia Technology will match commercial opportunities with the steady stream of inventions and software created by the staff. Work is under way on projects such as internet telephony and video search and retrieval. This may take the form of licences to third parties or may generate ideas for independent businesses.

Columbia Enterprises will provide seed capital and strategic planning for these businesses. The most promising will be spun off as separate companies, with the university retaining a stake.

This structure is sure to adapt in response to the real world.

Ann Kirschner is president of Morningside Ventures.

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