Tech Transfer Stars highlights those making a difference in the federal tech transfer community. This week's Tech Transfer Star is Valerie Larkin, a Technology Transfer Manager at the Naval Undersea Warfare Center (NUWC), Division Newport. The FLC Northeast Region recently recognized Larkin and her NUWC team for Excellence in Technology Transfer.
How did you get involved in technology transfer?
I’ve been at NUWC, Division Newport since 1996. In 2010, someone I had worked with previously who was then running the tech transfer office recruited me to fill an open position. I’ve been there ever since. But prior to working for the government, I was familiar with tech transfer from the industry side.
What does a typical “day at the office” look like for you?
Every day is different, which keeps things interesting. There are a lot of meetings, of course; increasingly, I work with our Tech Bridge director to support various activities such as tech expos. Tech transfer at Navy labs is becoming more synergetic with Tech Bridge activities. I am constantly working with our technical people who are looking to establish agreements, and meeting with companies and organizations to assess how their technologies might meet our mission needs. And, of course, negotiating and administering our tech transfer agreements takes a lot of my time.
What do you love about your job?
It’s a privilege to work with the talented scientists and engineers in my lab to promote their technologies, and to play a role in the adoption of new technologies that help our warfighters.
What do you wish more people knew about Newport, RI?
Newport is a famous tourist destination, and it is well known for sailing, the mansions built in the Gilded Age and its beautiful coastline. But there is also a wonderfully diverse arts and culture community, and there is always something going on. It’s a wonderful place to live.
How has your background in statistical analysis been helpful for your work in tech transfer?
Well, the only time I use mathematics any more is when I have to count CRADAs for our metrics reports (laughs). But being a mathematician forces you to think in multiple dimensions, and that kind of thinking is helpful when you are envisioning how your tech transfer activities fit in an overall strategy of furthering your lab’s mission.
The U.S. Coast Guard Research and Development Center recently hosted a meeting of the FLC Northeast Region. What did you enjoy most about that opportunity to interact with other tech transfer professionals from your region?
I’ve been very involved with the Northeast Region since I started working in tech transfer 13 years ago. I was Deputy Regional Coordinator for two years, and then served as Regional Coordinator for five years. This year was the first time since 2019 that we met in person, so it was fantastic to meet with friends I han’t seen in four years, as well as getting to meet new people from the labs in our region. One of the activities involved breakout sessions oriented around the three pillars of the FLC; since I’m on the Educate Committee, I led that session. It was really interesting to see what my colleagues at other labs are doing in this area.
One highlight of that event for you had to be your team being recognized for Excellence in Tech Transfer focused on inflatable structures for use with submarines and other vessels. What can you say about the innovation and creativity involved in those tech transfer efforts?
It was a privilege to be a part of that team, and it was a genuine team effort. Our technical expert, who unfortunately recently retired but fortunately leaves behind a well-trained technical team, developed a center of excellence at our lab in composites and advanced materials and inflatable structures. These technologies have numerous applications for Navy mission requirements as well as outside. Working with my colleagues in the tech transfer office as well as our legal department, we came up with a strategy to find the partners that could best work with us in the development of these technologies, and we used a portfolio of CRADAs, PIAs, patent licenses and other agreements to implement this strategy.
You’ve been a longtime volunteer for the FLC and for Bike Newport, and have performed as a musician at numerous local fundraising events. How have those experiences been rewarding for you?
The FLC is a wonderful organization, and it has been a pleasure to work with so many talented people. When I ultimately retire from government, I think I will miss my involvement with FLC the most. Bicycling is a passion of mine. Bike Newport, the bicycle advocacy organization in the city of Newport, has a mission to promote safe bicycling through education and the implementation of infrastructure. Beyond that, we make biking more accessible to youth in communities that traditionally have been under-supported, through activities such as repairing donated bikes and giving them to kids at no cost. Playing music is another passion, and to be able to use one’s talent to help others through performing at fundraisers is very rewarding.
What’s a favorite memory from a past FLC event or initiative?
There are too many favorite memories to mention. I served on the FLC Executive Board for seven years as a regional coordinator and then as a member at large. I enjoyed working with my fellow Board members immensely, and I feel that we accomplished a lot. When I became Regional Coordinator for the Northeast region, I adopted a strategy of having each of our regional meetings hosted by one of our constituent laboratories, and I think everyone enjoyed the opportunity to visit our fellow labs and see the technologies developed there as well as how they do tech transfer. The last National Meeting in Cleveland was an amazing experience, since it was the first time we had met in person since 2019. And I finally got to visit the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
What advice would you give to someone who is new to the tech transfer profession?
We used to have a saying in the FLC: “Tech transfer is a contact sport.” You really have to get out of your office and see where potential collaborators might be. Understand the technologies at your lab as much as possible (obviously, no one can be an expert in every area). And make a point of learning something new every day.