Entrepreneurial Activities & Student Involvement

Faculty and staff are encouraged to engage in entrepreneurial efforts so long as they do not conflict with their university responsibilities. Contact the Office of Research Integrity to determine the need for a management plan to help manage these potential conflicts.

When there could be a perceived conflict of interest in Research-related entrepreneurial activities:

  • Receiving consulting fees from, and owning stock in, a company while performing research on the company’s technology
  • Conducting federally-funded research that could affect the financial interests of a company in which the Investigator has a personal financial interest
  • Involving students or post-docs and other trainees in work that could directly benefit a company in which the advisor/faculty member has a personal financial interest
  • Giving a company preferential access to results of university conducted research while having an ownership interest in, or providing personal consulting services to, that company

Use of University Resources:

Incidental use of university resources is allowable for minor activities associated with community engagement activities, entrepreneurial activities, & consulting work (i.e. checking email, incidental use of resources). However use of licensed software is not allowed under any circumstance, as it puts the university’s educational license at risk. Use of university owned space and university equipment is not allowed without an agreement with the appropriate department, similar to what may be allowed by the university to a member of the community. See https://coi.uncg.edu/understanding-coi/ for additional information on consulting activities.

SBIR or STTR funding:

If the small business with which you have a personal and/or financial relationship is applying for SBIR or STTR funding, you may have a conflict of interest (COI). It is important to contact the Office of Research Integrity before or during the proposal stage so that preliminary COI management plan work can occur prior to award notification.

If postdoctoral fellows or students are involved in University research, even if sponsored by or involving a faculty member’s start-up company, it is considered university activity (and effort) in which the individual is engaged. Conversely, if they are engaged on the company side of research (e.g., serving as a PI or researcher on the company side of an SBIR or STTR award to the faculty start-up company {if they meet sponsor eligibility requirements to serve in that role}), that is considered external activity, and a COI management plan should be considered with respect to their University responsibilities.

Entrepreneurial Faculty & Graduate Student Interaction:

UNCG faculty members, through their research and academic pursuits, may develop technologies, processes, and innovative procedures that are used in the formation of nascent startup companies. Graduate students often work with and for faculty member-developed start-ups and businesses. The process of reducing or managing a conflict of interest for faculty becomes more challenging when graduate students are involved in the faculty’s business enterprise. A “conflict” does not suggest wrongdoing but rather that a potential conflict exists for the faculty advisor between the academic needs of the student and the interests of the company.

These activities require review by the Office of Research Integrity, and creation of a management plan for oversight by the Conflict of Interest Committee (COIC). To address the potential faculty conflict of interest regarding graduate student research or employment with the faculty member’s business enterprise, the ORI will help to develop a management plan for the faculty member and their role regarding the student.

Guidance for student engagement in entrepreneurial activities:

It is imperative the graduate students understand their rights and responsibilities as students and scholars when engaged with faculty-owned industry or industry in which a faculty member has an outside interest. In addition to the limitations described above for academic-industry relationships:

  • Students Must Always Have Freedom to Publish.
    Freedom to publish and disseminate results are major criteria for assessing the appropriateness of any research project, particularly those involving graduate students. The integrity of a student’s academic/research experience shall be preserved, including the ability to complete and publish a thesis or dissertation and to freely publish, present, or otherwise disclose the results of research both within the academic community and to the public at large. The University precludes assigning to extramural sources the right to keep or make final decisions about what may or may not be published with respect to a student’s dissertation or thesis project. Within this general understanding, the University also realizes that circumstances may arise where certain restrictions or limitations may be appropriate. Short, reasonable delays may be appropriate, for example, to allow the research sponsor to review publications for inadvertent disclosures of proprietary data or potentially patentable inventions. When at all possible, these potential delays should be discussed with the student as early in the research process as possible. In the case of a dissertation or thesis, the review MUST be completed prior to submitting the document to the Graduate School. Policies that govern graduate student thesis/dissertation publication allow for a short embargo of the dissertation/thesis but it is advisable to ensure the dissertation, in its entirety, contains no proprietary information prior to submission.
  • Freedom of Choice Regarding Involvement in Adviser’s Company.
    Graduate students have the freedom to decide whether to participate in faculty research or business activities. They have the right to say no, to change advisors and to change research interests to avoid engagement in faculty activities that may be outside the scope of the student’s academic interest.
  • COI Management Plan Requirement.
    Graduate students may not be involved in a company in which their dissertation/thesis adviser or faculty mentor has an outside interest unless a COI Management Plan can be arranged for the faculty involved. “Involvement” means they may not be employed in the company in a research capacity, undertake training in the company, or do their dissertation research in the company. In addition, if there are other faculty involved in that company, only one faculty member may serve on that student’s committee.

Concerns regarding student academic progress/success identified by the COIC will be addressed with the faculty member and may potentially result in removal of the student from the enterprise if the COIC determines the conflict cannot be managed.

Prior to engaging postdoctoral fellows in any faculty start-up company activities, the faculty member should ensure to have a discussion with the postdoctoral fellow around the topics included in this guidance. Postdoctoral fellows are considered staff members, and any external activities must be approved in advance by the individual’s supervisor. External activities must occur outside of University work hours and must not involve UNCG resources. If a faculty member is the primary postdoctoral supervisor and also engages the postdoctoral fellow in their external start-up activities, a COI management plan should be established that adjusts the individual’s administrative reporting line or assigns independent oversight, as the faculty member may not be in the most objective position to assess whether the postdoctoral training and the activities within the start-up company are in conflict and whether the external activities are interfering with or detracting from the individual’s University responsibilities and engagement in postdoctoral training.

COI primary contact

Melissa Skillings, MS, MBA, JD
Director, Office of Research Integrity