Tech Transfer Stars is an opportunity to highlight those making a difference in the federal tech transfer community. This week's Tech Transfer Star is John Dement, Department of Defense Technology Transfer Senior Advisor at Naval Surface Warfare Center - Crane Division, and recent FLC Harold Metcalf Service Award Winner.
1. First, can you tell us a little about your professional journey and how you ended up at DoD’s Naval Surface Warfare Center?
I started in the private industry, working structural engineering on the F-15E production line and then I joined Naval Surface Warfare Center - Crane Division.
2. What do you love about your job?
Making a difference for our country and the people I work with. I am always amazed by how nice and dedicated T2 individuals are.
In my current job with the DoD, I’ve found I really like policy work. It truly is an opportunity to shape how T2 enables the DoD and its laboratories to better accomplish our missions.
3. What does a typical day ‘in the office’ look like for you?
Trying to stay focused on the priority tasks and keeping everyone on the same page with the same information. The sharing of information and understanding is a key enabler to unify otherwise disparate individuals and groups
4. What’s the best career decision you’ve ever made?
Get out of the way! Literally not having career goals other than doing the best job I can do in my current position.
5. Your time as the FLC chair was transformative for the organization. What were some of your driving forces for that transformation and how did you measure success?
In about 10 years we’ll look back and see if the changes that occurred during my tenure were transformative. The driving force was the need to better support our customers — the federal labs and T2 professionals. Through a collective strategic process, we developed a new strategic plan along with new bylaws and a new operations model (e.g. hired an executive director, forged a partnership for association management through a cooperative agreement, reduced and refocused the Executive Board) to better execute the plan. We changed the focus and how FLC executes work to better support the federal labs and T2 professionals — as Congress intended.
6. What are some of your fondest memories/greatest achievements as former FLC chair?
Easiest question so far! Everyone’s single focus, true unity, to make smart and lasting changes to the FLC — and doing it together. To the best of my recollection, all the Executive Board votes were unanimous! That is unheard of with a board of that size. We all saw we had a unique opportunity in time to give back to an organization that had been so instrumental and beneficial to all our careers.
7. Collaboration is key to successful tech transfer partnerships. What advice would you give to those new in the field of tech transfer to better improve their collaboration skills?
Collaboration is imperative and must be exercised and practiced…daily. The best advice is to not insist on “being right” at the expense of what is “best” and moving everyone forward. You must keep an eye on the bigger picture or context.
8. What does the next generation of tech transfer stars have to look forward to the most?
I think a more conducive environment — both inside the federal government and in a rapidly maturing innovation ecosystem — for partnerships enabled by T2 to increase in demand and impact. It is a great time to be entering the field of T2. There are more opportunities than ever before.
9. What challenges do you see on the horizon for federal labs and their tech transfer offices?
In the more conducive environment, there are more players in the game inside and outside the labs. T2 professionals will have to smartly navigate these individuals and organizations — their roles and responsibilities — that didn’t exist just a handful of years ago. The game is evolving and becoming more complex. Tech transfer is not just an agreement but also a partnership in a more true way.
10. How do you think federal tech transfer will evolve over the next five years, and how can our labs and TTOs prepare?
Based on the past five years, my hope is that the next five years will see a renaissance regarding T2 being seen as valuable and impactful to the labs and the nation. Key #1 is the continued education and professionalization of T2 professionals. People are always the most important asset. Key #2 is the ability to effectively communicate the value and impact of T2 through quantifiable and qualitative means. In my 15 years in T2, this has been the community’s biggest weakness. Lastly, key #3 is FLC engaging the private sector in ways that increase meaningful interactions with the labs on tangible useful collaborations. I hope in five years, the T2 community can better communicate the value and impact T2 has had on the labs. No one else can tell the T2 story, and it is significantly more impressive than we currently tell.