Lesley Millar-Nicholson has been the Director of Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Technology Licensing Office (TLO) since July 2016 and from September 2019 also assumed responsibility as Director of Catalysts in the newly formed MIT Office of Strategic Alliances and Technology Transfer (OSATT). As TLO Director, she leads a team managing MIT’s intellectual assets and technology transfer process. As Director of Catalysts Lesley leads a small team of Catalysts who work closely with faculty on corporate and other complex research funding and capacity building opportunities.
Ms. Millar-Nicholson is a Past President of the Board of Governors of Certified Licensing Professionals Inc, (CLP Inc.), is a former member of the Board of Directors of the Licensing Executive Society (LES), and is on the Board of Cambridge Enterprise, UK. A native of Scotland, Ms. Millar-Nicholson has a B.Ed., M.Ed, MBA, and is a Certified Licensing Professional (CLP).
1) Where are you from in Scotland?
2) Can you share what event brought you to the U.S. and how long you have been here?
It is a long story- the short version is, that I first came to the U.S. on an international rotary exchange scholarship arriving in Atlanta, Ga in 1983. I studied at UGA in Athens, Ga, and met my now wife, Lori. For a variety of reasons, I left the US only to return in 2000 to Illinois, where I studied for an MBA at UI, Urbana-Champaign. There I was reunited with Lori and also introduced to technology transfer and commercialization of University research. That is the job I now hold at MIT.
3) What do you most miss about Scotland?
Anything that you have not been able to replicate in the U.S.?What do I miss aside from my siblings, friends, and parents? The air of the countryside, the rolling landscapes, mountains, lochs, the ancient walls, and standing stones.Not been able to replicate – bridies, Walkers crisps, and really good egg bap.
4) Could you expand on your current role and why you enjoy it?
I have two roles at MIT. I manage the MIT Technology Licensing Office which is responsible for commercializing research undertaken at MIT (patents, copyrights etc) and, I also manage a small team who works with corporate partners interested in sponsoring research or having other sorts of engagements with MIT faculty and researchers. What’s not to love about working with some of the smartest people on the planet? Being at the cutting edge of science- seeing amazing inventions before the rest of the world sees them. Helping enable the transfer of these inventions for practical use, and hopefully facilitating their great impact in the world is a wonderful thing.
5) Did you choose New England or did it choose you?
It chose me (and my family). My wife, daughter, and I lived in Champaign, IL until I was recruited to MIT in 2016.
6) Looking back in time, are there any decisions you made that in hindsight you now view as defining moments in your career?
My personal decision to move to the U.S. in 2000 to be with Lori- was the beginning of a series of events, that felt more like stars aligning. My involvement as an intern in the field of technology transfer at UIUC, gave me an opportunity that would not have been possible anywhere else (in my view). I have always believed in serendipity- and my life choices seem to be full of it.
7) What one piece of advice would you give to entrepreneurs in Scotland contemplating establishing a business in New England?
New England is an extraordinary place for entrepreneurship and innovation. Not just the leading research universities, but the funding sources, the accelerators and incubators, the raw talent arising from graduate and undergraduate students. Study the landscape well- get to know the resources available and avail yourself of the networks that exist. I once noted to a friend that (pre-pandemic) I likely attended more events related to Scotland’s entrepreneurship and national business development in Boston than I would ever have contemplated doing if I were working in the U.K. (perhaps misguided but that’s what it felt like at the time).
8) What message would you give to New England entrepreneurs thinking of expanding into Europe?
Understand cultural differences, regional and national politics and policies. Same as above study the landscape well- get to know the resources available and avail yourself of the networks that exist.