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The Research Institution GAP Fund and Accelerator Program Summit

Pitt, CMU join team to gap fund start-ups

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October 23-25, 2024 / Atlanta, GA

The annual summit for research institution gap fund and accelerator programs, including proof of concept programs, startup accelerators, and university venture funds

The Story

The technology commercialization offices at the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University are teaming up on a new initiative to spin out more technology into startups.

The collaboration is being funded by a $200,000 grant from the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development. Each university is receiving $100,000 in DCED money plus $25,000 from the Greater Oakland Keystone Innovation Zone. Each school is kicking in an additional $75,000.

Some of the funds will go toward business advisers and expanding the executive-in-residence program, said Marc Malandro, Pitt’s associate vice chancellor for technology management and commercialization.

“We are using it to implement a process here, and they are doing the same at CMU,” he said. “It’s a process to more rigorously identify and mentor (business) opportunities as they move through the university.”

To start, Malandro said technology already in the pipeline will be candidates for this new treatment, and his staff is doing a portfolio review to identify them.

The program also will draw expertise from law school students and faculty and business school mentors, and give gap funding to projects where the team sees the most opportunity.

“This team of business, IP and scientists will make the decision together,” Malandro said, noting it will build on programs existing within CMU and Pitt, such as the Coulter Program at Pitt’s Swanson School of Engineering.

The new project will seek the expertise of each university and encourage crossover, Malandro said. So if developers of a software technology spinning out of Pitt need some expertise from CMU on how to commercialize, or if a life sciences technology emanating from CMU can be enhanced by Pitt, there is a mechanism to do that through these advisory teams.

“It’s fairly unique. I am not sure other institutions have the relationship that Pitt and CMU have, and the synergy of the technology base,” Malandro said of the pilot project. “Each will shepherd a couple of opportunities through this and generate the data and see if things get out with a better chance of success.”

Bob Wooldridge, director of CMU’s Center for Technology Transfer and Enterprise Creation, said the program will be added to CMU’s pool of startup resources.“There are places where we leverage these gap funds. We take them and then take smaller pieces and give them to pre-formed teams that are thinking about a startup,” he said, noting that many times these small funds are added to other small funds to get a team to the place they need to be before seeking economic development or investor money.

Wooldridge described all the universities’ startup programs as complementary to one another.

Last year, Pitt spun out nine new companies; and, since 1996, the total is 89. For each of the past three years, CMU has spun out 10 companies.

Both universities have been pushing for more commercialization of technology originating from faculty and student research.

However, among the biggest challenges for a university spinout are funding and talent, said John Manzetti, president and CEO of the Pittsburgh Life Sciences Greenhouse, an economic development organization that works with both institutions.

“There is always a need for more technology coming out, even if it is hard to fund,” he said, noting that the universities have been fostering a collaborative relationship for many years. “We want to see more opportunities come out. Not everything makes it to market, (but) the more that spin out, the more we can look at and run through our programs and determine (viability), the more innovation that comes out, the better.”

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