Tech Transfer Stars: Vladimir Popov's Diverse Professional Experiences Inspire Unconventional T2 Solutions

Tech Transfer Stars: Vladimir Popov's Diverse Professional Experiences Inspire Unconventional T2 Solutions

August 13, 2023

Tech Transfer Stars highlights those making a difference in the federal tech transfer community. This week's Tech Transfer Star is Vladimir Popov, PhD, MBA, Chief Innovation Officer in the Center for Innovation and Strategic Partnerships at Frederick National Laboratory for Cancer Research.

How did you get involved in technology transfer? 
My first contact with tech transfer was licensing a technology from a university for a startup I was involved in. Later, during my second postdoc at the University of Pennsylvania, I joined their Penn Center for Innovation (PCI) as a fellow. I got more deeply involved by becoming a coordinator for other fellows, as a teaching assistant for Penn’s I-Corp program, and eventually, as a full-time licensing manager within PCI. 

What does a typical “day at the office” look like for you? 
I’m involved in a diverse set of activities during the day. Parts of my day are devoted to partnership and collaboration development, and other parts are devoted to activities within the tech transfer arena, such as talking to investigators and setting up new programs to foster and promote innovation and recognize our inventors.
What do you love about your job?
The diverse set of activities. I am a scientist at heart who simply cannot sit still at the bench. My work allows me to be in touch with science and scientists, while being able to engage with many different aspects of the tech transfer process. There is never a dull moment in my day. 

What do you do for fun? 
I like spending time outdoors. I fish, hunt, do woodwork and keep honeybees. 

What do you wish more people knew about Frederick National Laboratory?
I wish they knew more about the unique science and expertise present at the lab. That it is the only national lab under the Department of Health and Human Services, that it’s the youngest National Lab, and that it’s the only National Lab fully dedicated to Biomedical Research. 

Your career has included stints as a researcher, as an entrepreneur and as a manager at a hospital in Serbia. How have those diverse experiences helped you in your tech transfer work?
I think diverse experiences give you the ability to look at things from different angles. Being able to do this makes you creative and open to “non-conventional” solutions, which are often needed. Most of the time, there is more than one way to solve a problem—you just have to be able to see that. 

Congratulations on recently receiving your MBA from Johns Hopkins. How did that experience inform and inspire your involvement with the FLC’s FLEX program, which pairs federal labs with aspiring entrepreneurs in business schools?  
The MBA experience was great. I am glad I did it when I did it. I already had diverse work experience under my belt, which made my business education so much more relevant, because the concepts I was learning about made more sense. I could recall specific situations or projects where I would apply this newly gained knowledge. FLEX is an example of that. I took a class and realized how it could be improved. At the same time, I talked to a number of federal labs and realized that this improvement could benefit the labs as well. FLEX is the outcome of my federal and business experiences. It represents a true symbiotic relationship that equally benefits business students, business schools and federal labs. 

Another project you’ve been involved with, the NCI-FNL Technology Showcase, won an FLC State and Local Economic Development Award in 2021. What can you tell us about the state and local impacts of that event as it has evolved over time?  
The Technology Showcase is one of the rare events that was created very organically by the relevant stakeholders who wanted to promote technologies and partnering opportunities with FNL and the National Cancer Institute (NCI). Since its inception, it has consistently attracted between 200 and 300 people from the region, and has become a one-of-a-kind, regional signature event. Every year we tweak the event based on the feedback and interest from the audience, which helps keep content fresh and up to date with current developments in the field. A great number of returning attendees as well as all the original stakeholders, plus a few new ones, are a true testament to the success and relevance of our event. 

What’s a favorite memory from a past FLC event or initiative? 
I truly enjoy attending FLC National Meetings. Knowledge and experience sharing between federal labs is very crucial. However, what is even more important is connecting with your colleagues. This is where that diverse set of experiences and looking at things from different angles really come into play. 

What advice would you give to someone who is new to the tech transfer profession?
Learn as much as you can—not only about one thing within tech transfer, like marketing or licensing or tech assessment. Learn it all, and then some. The more aspects of the “invention-to-product” path you are comfortable with, the better you will be at tech transfer.