Partnership with student consulting group enhances WashU tech transfer, career training

​A national model for student engagement, BALSA helps foster an entrepreneurial culture on campus and in region

​A student-led strategic consulting firm, The BALSA Group, is expanding the technology transfer capabilities of Washington University in St. Louis while broadening career opportunities for its members and supporting local economic growth and development.

BALSA, founded and led by graduate students and postdoctoral fellows, provides its members with opportunities to explore the business side of science and technology through strategic consulting engagements.

Teams of 5-6 students from 12 departments at Washington University and Saint Louis University come together to provide consulting services to St. Louis startups and established corporations through 6-to-7 week projects.

One of BALSA’s longest running collaborations is with the university’s Office of Technology Management (OTM). This mutually beneficial partnership is helping bring university innovations to the marketplace.

“Washington University is entering a period of new energy and enthusiasm in our technology transfer efforts,” said Dedric Carter, PhD, associate provost and associate vice chancellor for innovation and entrepreneurship.

“The launching of our new Quick Start license, new emphasis on creating opportunities for engagement, and important partnerships such as the one with BALSA are key parts of the unique fabric that is emerging from WashU,” Carter said

BALSA members at work on a strategic consulting project. One of BALSA’s longest running collaborations is with the university’s Office of Technology Management. This partnership helps bring university innovations to the marketplace while offering career training opportunities for the students. (Credit: Courtesy Photo)

A recent article in the journal Technology Transfer and Entrepreneurship outlines the success of BALSA, the group’s structure and process and how the group serves as a national model for similar campus collaborations.

“The BALSA Group has two main objectives: professional development of business skills for academics and bringing real value to the St. Louis region through our consulting projects,” said Kyle Austin, director of administration for BALSA and a postdoctoral researcher at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis.

“The BALSA-OTM collaboration is an excellent example of a sustainable model for our group,” Austin said. “BALSA members get a behind-the-scenes look at how to evaluate an invention through examining an invention’s advantages and novelties over existing products, how to evaluate a market size for the application of a technology, and identify potential competitors and partners for the invention.”

New BALSA consultants are guided by experienced members and a representative from the OTM office.

Nichole Mercier, PhD, interim director of OTM, says that working with BALSA provides significant benefits to the office.

“By working with BALSA teams, OTM is able to expand the capability to review new technologies, provide a high-quality training experience on technology evaluation and transfer, and increase awareness about tech transfer opportunities in university labs. OTM has also hired multiple new licensing associates who were previous BALSA consultings working on OTM projects.”

Austin said that in 2014, BALSA project teams assessed more than 10 percent of the invention disclosures received through OTM.

“BALSA just began our 21st project with OTM and we are looking forward to continuing this collaboration in the future,” Austin said. “The hands on nature of the BALSA projects complements the academic training provided by WashU.”

A national model

BALSA’s success has inspired similar consulting groups, including Fourth River Solutions (4RS) at the University of Pittsburgh.

“BALSA has been around for four years and done an impressive job of growing the organization and helping students,” said Saik-Kia Goh, co-founder and CEO of 4RS.

“We learned from our Pitt Health Innovation Case Competition experience that students value hands-on training and are hungry for experience that could complement with their academic training,” Goh said.

“BALSA’s model fulfills this unmet need by providing students the opportunity to learn about the business side of science through experiential engagements, which in turn foster the entrepreneurship culture at a university.

“BALSA’s success gave us the confidence to pull the trigger to start our own organization at University of Pittsburgh,” said Goh, who is also co-author of the Technology Transfer and Entrepreneurship article.

Outside the university, St. Louis civic leaders have recognized BALSA as a valuable player in the St. Louis entrepreneurial community.

To learn more about BALSA, visit