In fiscal year 2021, more than $1.2 billion in venture funding went to startups affiliated with Johns Hopkins Tech Ventures.
That’s according to a recently released annual report from the Baltimore university’s department that works with faculty to bring discoveries from the lab to market, and incubates new companies. From July 2020 to June 2021, startups connected to the university received more than $768 million in venture capital and $496 million in public equity financing, the report states.
Some of the highlights include:
- Thrive Earlier Detection, a cancer diagnostics startup out of the university’s Vogelstein Lab that developed a liquid biopsy, raised $257 million in a Series B round, then was acquired by Exact Sciences for $2.1 billion in October.
- Two Baltimore-based companies had sizable raises: Delfi Diagnostics raised $100 million to further develop its blood test for cancer in January, and Personal Genome Diagnostics raised $103 million in a Series C round reported in February.
- NexImmune, a clinical-stage biotech company based in Gaithersburg, raised $126.5 million via an initial public offering in February.
- Allakos, a San Francisco Bay Area-based biotech startup that licenses technology from the university, raised $271 million in a public offering.
- Then there are the Baltimore-based startups that raised venture rounds, such as Protenus, emocha and b.well. They join Sonavex and Sonavi Labs as companies that have raised in recent years.
It’s a sign of health for JHTV, which has committed resources to building the university’s innovation ecosystem over the better part of the last decade under the leadership of Christy Wyskiel, the senior advisor to the president of Johns Hopkins University for innovation and entrepreneurship and head of JHTV.
Wyskiel said the deals help to build the ecosystem at Hopkins, which in turn makes the companies more attractive to others from the business world looking to support them.
“The more IPOs and acquisitions you have, then the more investors are interested in looking around,” Wyskiel told Technical.ly. “It’s this incredible virtuous cycle if you can get it going, so we’re certainly delighted to see that.”
The massive funding rounds came at a time when funding nationally is on the rise for biotech and pharma, two areas where Johns Hopkins’ renowned healthcare researchers produce 75% of the innovations that JHTV sees. Across the U.S., firms working in those spaces raised a 10-year high of $27.2 billion in 2020, according to data from the PitchBook-NVCA Venture Monitor. In the first half of 2021, investment dollars already reached nearly three-quarters of that total.
It also comes at a time of investor interest in particular areas where JHU startups have concentrations of expertise. As the deals for Thrive, Delfi and PGDx show, investors are willing to back cancer diagnostics companies. The work that JHTV’s team performs is ultimately about helping faculty bring new tools and approaches from the lab into wider use. In the area of cancer diagnostics, startups are developing new technology and tools to catch the disease faster. It’s work that was developed over years by renowned researchers such as Dr. Bert Vogelstein, who is a cofounder of Thrive, and Dr. Victor Velculescu, a founder of both PGDx and Delfi.
“The earlier you can catch something and deal with it before it affects other areas in the body, the better off you’re going to be and the higher likelihood that you’ll live,” Wyskiel said. “[Vogelstein] has been motivated for his many decade career by that idea. To me it’s a very wonderful thing that that is now close to reality.”
To be sure, not all funding stays local. But the amount that is going to local companies is going up. Before JHTV was created, 15% of the less than $100 million being raised collectively by Hopkins startups in those years was staying local. Now, over 40% of the funds are staying local, Wyskiel said.
The funding that comes in venture rounds and on the stock market often follows foundational work at JHTV. For one, there’s the tech transfer office, led by Steve Kousouris. This team works with faculty members as they develop new technology and seek licensing deals that can help to form a company. According to the report, the department recorded 444 reports of invention, which is slightly higher than average.
It also awarded $1 million in translational funding, which is made possible via philanthropic donors. These grants help researchers de-risk an idea and make it investment-ready.
The university’s incubation resources, called FastForward, are designed to assist companies as they bring on entrepreneurs to run companies, build teams and perform the clinical testing and business development work necessary to bring the products to market. Led by Brian Stansky, it has mentors in residence helping companies and programming like iCorps to help with customer discovery. A big focus is on helping to build teams.
“It takes a lot more than a good idea or a good patent to make a company,” Wyskiel said. “You have to have commercial relevance. You have to have a line of sight towards the market. You have to have a great management team. … One of the things that we have to do is build that network” of business pros who can work with faculty members.
While Baltimore is seeing growth, life sciences startup experts in town have long lamented that lack of experienced entrepreneurs to helm companies. JHTV is continuously working to build a network of entrepreneurs that can take the helm of companies founded by faculty, who often continue their research and teaching as they make discoveries. But there’s still work to be done, and JHTV tapped senior team member Helen Montag as senior director for ecosystem development to lead that effort in Baltimore.
JHTV also runs FastForward U, providing student entrepreneurship resources to 123 ventures over its lifespan, which saw $29.7 million in funding raised. This team reported an 80% increase in online engagement as demo days and other events went virtual under director Josh Ambrose.
And the JHU Social Innovation Lab, an accelerator program that serves impact-focused ventures in the Baltimore community and from the university, has supported 103 ventures over its history, which have secured $76 million in funding. SIL Director Madison Marks led last year’s cohort, which was 90% founders of color and 70% women founders, as the programming went virtual. Check out SIL’s own impact report for the last year.
Through each of the departments, there’s the work to keep the virtuous cycle flowing.
“This work will not be complete until the skyline is filled with companies that have come out of our great universities,” Wyskiel said, referring to not just Hopkins but universities across the city, such as the University of Maryland, Baltimore, UMBC, Towson University, Loyola University Maryland, MICA and the University of Baltimore. “There’s a great network of us that work with young entrepreneurs, that work with scientists, and I want to perpetuate that.”