Fly Me to the Moon: New Licensing & Ventures Leader Has Big Goals

January 25, 2022 By Whitelaw Reid, wdr4d@virginia.edu Whitelaw Reid, wdr4d@virginia.edu

Like many children growing up in the 1960s, Richard Chylla was fascinated by the United States space program and dreamed of becoming an astronaut.

Chylla never did, but his love for everything that landing on the moon signified – science, exploration, pushing boundaries – stayed with him throughout high school and college, and even into his professional career.

It is that same passion that brought Chylla to Charlottesville as the University of Virginia Licensing & Ventures Group’s new executive director. (UVA LVG is the intellectual property management and innovation commercialization organization for the University’s research portfolio.)

“I love the variety of technologies and the ability to work with faculty to fulfill their research ambitions,” Chylla said. “We get to work with people from the laboratory bench, to clinical settings, industry and investors. No two days are the same, and I really enjoy that.”

UVA Vice President for Research Melur K. Ramasubramanian (whose office oversees UVA LVG) said Chylla – a Chicago native who previously served in a similar role at Michigan State University – is a great addition.

“[His] deep experience and technical expertise across all facets of research commercialization make him an ideal fit to lead the successful Licensing & Ventures Group and broaden the impact of the UVA innovation ecosystem,” Ramasubramanian said.

UVA Today caught up with Chylla to learn more about his background, as well as his plans for LVG’s future.

Q. During the tough times that the pandemic has brought on, what have been some of the biggest challenges from a commercialization and licensing perspective? And on the flip side, have there been any silver linings?

A. The pandemic certainly has created economic uncertainty, in some markets more than others. When you have uncertainty, industry and investors can be more cautious about making investments in technologies that are years away from generating revenue. Some places saw disruptions in their ability to do research. Both of these created pipeline challenges for university tech transfer offices. 

On the flip side, most offices are nearly completely electronic and the ability for tech transfer offices to work productively in a remote setting has allowed most of us to continue doing our jobs with only minor inconvenience or limitations. We’ve definitely been fortunate.

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Q. How has commercialization and licensing changed from when you first started working in the profession, and how do you see it continuing to evolve over the next decade?

A. The biggest change has been the evolution of the scope of what a university tech transfer office is expected to do. Years ago, the primary task was the protection of intellectual property and the negotiation of license agreements. While these are still core tasks, an office now must find ways to advance and de-risk early stage technologies to make them more interesting to industry and investors.

Increasingly, university technologies are being used to launch startup companies. Offices now must develop the infrastructure and ecosystem to support these efforts and the entrepreneurial ambitions of our faculty. Over the next decade, the scope of tech transfer with industry will continue to develop into more holistic partnerships and not just focus on individual licensing transactions.

Q. In your 25 years of experience in this space, what have been some of your proudest accomplishments?

A. When I worked in industry, I developed a process technology to make environmentally friendly coatings. I was able to design manufacturing plants and start up the manufacturing in the U.S., the Netherlands and Japan. It’s a thrill to see a factory take shape and to see products being made. These environmentally friendly coatings are still used on many types of food packaging, including fast food wrappers, cereal boxes and yogurt containers.

While at Michigan State University, I assisted in the creation of a startup that is building a platform for regenerative and sustainable agriculture. This will mitigate climate change and create advanced food systems that generate less pollution and soil depletion in major food producing countries. Very exciting stuff!

Q. What are some of the main goals – in the short and long term – that you’re hoping to accomplish as executive director of the UVA Licensing and Venture Group?

A. Short term, I’d like to get to know as many researchers as possible as well as wrap my arms around the UVA technology portfolio. Long term, I’d like to build on the success of LVG, create more Virginia-based startups, and develop a team that is a valued partner to the UVA research community.

University tech transfer is a great profession. I want the LVG team to enjoy their work and be prepared to take on new career opportunities, wherever they may be.

Q. Is there anything else you’d like to add?

A. I’d welcome any faculty or researcher who wants to see if LVG can enhance their research to call me. I’d love to hear what you’re working on and how we can help!

Media Contact

Whitelaw Reid

University News Senior Associate Office of University Communications