Tech Transfer Rising Stars highlights those who are early in their careers and making a difference in the federal tech transfer community. A Department of Energy internship program exposed Danielle Ferreira to the world of technology transfer while she was studying physics at Binghamton University. Within a year, she began working as a technology transfer and intellectual asset management specialist at Idaho National Laboratory (INL). The position requires her to wear many hats, but if she had to sum up her role, it would be “Problem Solver.”
How and why did you get involved in technology transfer?
I participated in the Department of Energy Office of Technology Transitions (OTT) Technology Commercialization Internship Program (TCIP) in the summer of 2022. Before that experience, I didn’t even know tech transfer was an industry that I could go into. Through my project working on a Brookhaven National Laboratory (BNL) radiation detector technology’s feasibility study, I discovered I loved the integration of hard tech research and business savvy that constituted tech transfer.
What does a typical “day at the office” look like for you?
I have several goals to accomplish as my career mission here at INL, which can be roughly summed up into three categories: Get principal investigators (PIs) project funding, cultivate innovation culture and facilitate the transition of technologies from the lab to industry. To accomplish these goals, I’ll often be found writing or editing funding proposals, establishing industry partners for PIs or INL programs, doing program research on other labs or DOE, designing and implementing workshops for PIs or assisting in the patent prosecution process.
What do you love about your job?
If I had to simplify my job title down to one simple phrase, it would be “Problem Solver.” It doesn’t really matter what problem a technology is running into. In almost all cases, PIs can come to me, describe the problem and I’m off to the races to try to fix it. This leads to new and exciting work every day and really fulfilling outcomes.
What do you do for fun?
Idaho is a really great place for outdoor activities. I have running list of all the cool things I want to do here, and thus far, that’s led to tubing and white-water rafting trips, camping in Yellowstone or the Grand Tetons, hiking or backpacking, rock climbing, swimming, fishing, berry picking and so much more fun stuff. We have some of the best farmers’ markets and fruit stands around, and even just grocery shopping has become a highlight of my week. I also can’t wait for ski season.
What do you wish more people knew about your work at INL?
I don’t think people fully understand the amount of work that goes into bringing technology to market. To the average person, it seems like you finish a technology at the lab, sell it to a company and voilà: successful business. There are so many hoops to jump through and obstacles to skirt that only a tiny fraction of technologies ever become commercially successful. We need more resources in order to bump that number.
You studied physics in college and coached soccer for years. How have those experiences helped in your tech transfer work?
In order to go into tech transfer at most labs, you’re required to have some sort of technical experience because a lot of our job is understanding technology. We do this by reading technical literature and having discussions with the inventor(s). These skills are emphasized heavily in most STEM curricula, including in my physics BS, giving me a leg up in this field.
The second important component is, simply put, people skills. We are constantly translating information from legal, technical leads, government officials and business partners back and forth. Teaching is the act of modifying high-level concepts for those less experienced in the field to understand them. The combination of the two is an incredibly potent mix for those wanting to break into the tech transfer industry.
What was your biggest takeaway from your internship at Brookhaven National Lab that has impacted your work in tech transfer?
That internship was my first exposure to tech transfer, and I still use the skills I gained during that experience every day. The Energy I-Corps curriculum was probably the aspect that supercharged my tech transfer abilities the most, and I’d highly encourage anyone with the opportunity to go through I-Corps to take it.
On the other hand, I would say the single most valuable aspect for all the interns was the networking opportunity. I met my mentor, Calvin Cheng, through a fireside chat webinar. I also met Jon Cook, the Senior Commercialization Manager at INL, who encouraged me to apply for this position.
Looking to your career ahead, do you have any long-term goals or dream projects?
Yes, I want to get INL’s technology commercialization win rate to 75%. We’re also in the process of creating INL’s very own startup incubator. I’d love to see one of the companies we support become the leader in its chosen industry.
What advice would you give to someone who is also new to the tech transfer profession?
I would say that there are opportunities around every corner and that linear paths are kind of overrated. Take the experiences offered to you, even if they appear tangential to the path you’d like to take.
What else would you like to share?
I’d love to take this space to share some of the tactics I use in everyday life. While they aren’t for everyone, they’ve certainly treated me well:
Keep it concise. No one wants to listen to a presentation go over the time limit, nor do they want to read your weekly monster email. When I reach out to new people in a cold call or email, I use two sentences – max – to explain who I am, what I want and how they can help. LinkedIn’s 300-character feature Connection invitations is a great place to start practicing this.
Always reach out and expand your network. Do this by emphasizing your desire to learn. There are so many successful career professionals who will happily take 30 minutes out of their week to talk to students or early-career professionals who are respectful, concise and ready to learn.