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UTEK's new leader Doug Schaedler to rein in risk with focus on consulting

Doug Schaedler, named UTEK president in February, plans to put a greater focus on fee-based consulting.

SCOTT KEELER | Times

Doug Schaedler, named UTEK president in February, plans to put a greater focus on fee-based consulting.

New-generation Doug Schaedler's now behind the wheel at Tampa's UTEK Corp., and the 37-year-old president is shifting gears to move the business ahead with, he hopes, less market risk to the bottom line.

Instead of making money with stakes in small young companies — perilous waters in this stock market — Schaedler wants UTEK to become more of a consulting firm. Better to depend on cash fees, he says, than a volatile portfolio of young businesses that just contributed to a whopping $37 million realized investment loss in the first quarter of this year.

Sounds savvy — if a confident Schaedler can pull it off. UTEK lost $2.1 million in income the first quarter. And its stock, which soared north of $20 in late 2006, now trades near a 52-week low (kind of like most stocks these days), closing Wednesday at $5.94.

In many ways, it's a textbook case of a company founder taking a business just so far, then handing it over to an energized young Turk with more practical business experience to grow it anew.

"We are trying to drive innovation," Schaedler says.

UTEK is a curious business, born in Plant City and now based in Ybor City, not far from the landmark Columbia Restaurant. UTEK is a matchmaker between client companies that seek fresh ideas for the commercial market and universities that brim with research but are clueless how to make money off it.

Enter UTEK founder Dr. Clifford Gross, a University of South Florida ergonomics professor who made his name inventing a range of products, including the Black & Decker wares that fit comfortably in a human grip. Under Gross, UTEK married company clients to promising university research — a strategy called technology transfer — then took shares in the patent-enriched companies tied to those unions.

Good plan while it lasted. The recent plummet in the stock market and nasty recession knocked out UTEK's pool of micro-cap investments. And Gross has now retired as CEO. He will step down as chairman at UTEK's annual shareholders meeting this summer. He gets a retirement package worth more than $1 million.

Enter Schaedler, who stopped by the St. Petersburg Times to talk about the new UTEK. Schaedler was the company's chief operating officer for several years before being named president in February. Nothing's official, but look for Schaedler to add the CEO title soon.

Change already is under way at UTEK. With 110 employees, the company now spends more time with bigger companies like DuPont, exploring corporate patents on hand that such innovative firms have not pursued but UTEK might. The company's also pushing into corporate consulting with last year's purchases of Chicago firm Strategos (to counsel companies to be more innovative), and futurist firm Social Technologies Group.

Schaedler envisions growing UTEK's consulting business, earning fees in the process, while putting less emphasis on the old-school plan to invest in small companies.

Schaedler comes well prepared as a professional manager. He earned a University of Chicago MBA and has worked for Internet companies, as well as Wall Street investment and venture capital firms.

He moved here from New York with his wife and they live in South Tampa with their 18-month-old daughter.

And yes, he says, they still are getting acclimated to Florida humidity. I did not tell him — after 18 years, so am I.

Robert Trigaux can be reached at trigaux@sptimes.com.

UTEK's new leader Doug Schaedler to rein in risk with focus on consulting 05/20/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, May 20, 2009 9:15pm]
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