Purdue University researcher Michael Zenter is familiar with the valley of funding death.
It’s the gap in available capital that exists between research-level funding and business loans offered to viable companies, and it’s spelled catastrophe for many startups.
But if you have a good enough idea, that valley seems to narrow with resources available from Purdue, which helped develop Zenter’s research in speech, language and hearing sciences into a tangible product.
Zenter co-founded SPEAK MODalities with Purdue professor Oliver Wendt. In 2011, Purdue Research Foundation licensed the company’s product, called SPEAKall!, an iPad app that helps to improve communication skills in autistic children.
Children use the app to make associations with symbols and then drag and drop them in sequences to form sentences. The app has been downloaded more than 25,000 times and is rated five out of five stars on the iTunes App Store.
None of this would have been possible, Zenter noted, without at least $100,000 in grants and awards from Purdue’s entrepreneurial arms that are Discovery and Research Park, both of which helped develop a prototype into an effective software, develop a more advanced language training app called SPEAKmore!, and create an Android version of the technology.
“We got some funding to take what was research activity and bring it closer to a commercially viable product,” he said.
Next on the company’s list is the Foundry Investment Fund. But that isn’t the only source of capital this semester for students and staff who want to advance their research from the lab to the marketplace:
Burton D. Morgan Center for Entrepreneurship in Discovery Park
Earlier this month, the center awarded $100,000 to 10 student teams and individuals during the 28th annual Business Plan Competition, at which representatives gave a 20-minute pitch of their company or product to a panel of judges.
In the graduate division, Ian Klein and Barron Hewetson received $30,000 for their Purdue Research Park-based company Spero Energy. In the undergraduate division, Rachel Box took home $20,000 after pitching her product Guarders.
On a smaller scale, the center is hosting its annual Elevator Pitch Competition the first weekend of April, where undergraduate students in the Certificate in Entrepreneurship and Innovation program and graduate students, faculty, staff and program alumni have two minutes in a “walk-to-the-elevator” pitch scenario in front of judges. Winners in either division receive $1,000.
“This competition is a great way to showcase and extract what’s going on in the university because the students have these innovative ideas and not all of them are products or services that are actual; some of them are just ideas,” said Jeanette Greener, who oversees the certificate program.
Purdue Foundry in Discovery Park
The Foundry is a network of entrepreneurs that aims to advance Purdue’s innovations into startups. Two funds established in 2014 have already invested nearly $1 million in Foundry clients and companies or researchers affiliated with Purdue.
The Elevate Purdue Foundry Fund was established after the Indiana Economic Development Corp. dedicated $2 million from its 21st Century Technology Fund. In January, 10 Purdue businesses received the $20,000 black award.
The application period for the next round of funding closes at the end of March. Companies given the black award are then eligible for an $80,000 gold award.
The $12 million Foundry Investment Fund was established through a partnership with Purdue Research Foundation and Cook Medical to support life science startups. Dedications from the fund work as a sidecar investment, matching 30 percent of larger institutional investments from outside the university.
In January, FAST BioMedical, Spensa Technologies and Symic Biomedical received $200,000 investments. The fund is not calendar-based and companies can apply at any time, said John Hanak, director of venture capital and funding resources for The Foundry.
The Foundry Investment Fund “gives them a bargaining chip,” Hanak said, “because now they go to some institutional investors and say, ‘Hey, look, I already have a fund that’s committed and will match if you can invest.’ ”
The Schurz Innovation Challenge, sponsored by Schurz Communications Inc. and organized by The Foundry, is set for April 30. Graduate and undergraduate students across all academic disciplines are eligible to compete for $10,500 in cash prizes to support innovations in media technology.
Office of Technology Commercialization in Purdue Research Park
The office’s Trask Fund is available specifically for Purdue professors in the early stages of commercializing their research. Established in 1974 by a gift from Ramoth Trask in honor of her husband, Verne Trask, the fund last year awarded nearly $300,000 to six researchers.
Applications for this semester’s round of funding are due by 5 p.m. Friday.
The office also plans to announce by the end of this week the winner of the Emerging Innovations Fund, which awards up to $150,000 every year to a business based in Purdue Research Park.
Finalists include Anfiro, Anadyn, Sensor Hound, DATTUS and Spero Energy.
“EIF and Trask are two funds, two tools to help in that initial mission … of getting those technologies into the marketplace and allowing the university people to be engaged into the contemporary operating environment of industry,” said Chad Pittman, the office’s vice president.
Purdue Research Foundation and Clean Energy Trust partnered this year to promote the Clean Energy Challenge on April 14 in Chicago.
Purdue-based Atlas Energy Systems LLC, comprised of three undergraduates and a Purdue alum, is a finalist to compete for $1 million in total investments.
The challenge is a popular accelerator and pitch competition that has kicked off more than 60 Midwest clean-tech startups, according to a university press release.
FOUNDER.org, a nonprofit that aims to increase the pool of student entrepreneurs, is soliciting applications until April 15 for its Class of 2016 — 50 startups that will receive weekly training and $10,000 to $100,000 grants.
The agency elects student representatives to promote the opportunity at campuses across the globe. Jennifer Rostami, a graduate student in the Krannert School of Management, is encouraging students to apply by March 10, when applicants will have a chance to submit a pitch by live streaming to FOUNDER.org officials.
“FOUNDER is involved with schools across Europe and the U.S.,” Rostami said, “so they like to have students that are kind of the connection to each campus to drum up awareness; to keep the brand buzzed about.”
DATTUS, formerly known as Bearing Analytics, was named to FOUNDER.org’s Class of 2015 and received a $100,000 grant.
Funding for startups this semester
•Burton D. Morgan Business Plan Competition awarded $100,000 in February
•Trask Fund awarded $300,000 in 2014 (applications due 5 p.m. Friday)
•Elevate Purdue Foundry Fund will award up to $20,000 (applications due March 31)
•Elevator Pitch Competition will award up to $1,000 to each winner
•Schurz Innovation Challenge will award $10,500 total (April 14 at Purdue)
•FOUNDER.org Class of 2016 will award up to $100,000 (applications due April 15)
•Clean Energy Challenge will award $1 million total (April 30 in Chicago)
•Foundry Investment Fund matches 30 percent of outside investment (apply anytime)