October 18-20 | Tucson, AZ

The Research Institution GAP Fund and Accelerator Program Summit

UMass records best-ever year for startup businesses, $2M in POC Funding

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October 18-20, 2023 / Tucson, AZ
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 University of Massachusetts created six new startup companies within the past year, its best-ever annual performance, and set new records for patent applications and the number of faculty members disclosing inventions, President Caret said today.  The new companies reflect the University’s increased focus on coaching, mentoring and providing other services and support to help researchers start businesses.

Also, for the eighth straight year, UMass generated more than $30 million in licensing income, enough to ensure that the University maintains its perch in national surveys of universities with the highest licensing income derived from academic research, President Caret said.

“Our success is proof that the leading-edge research performed by our distinguished faculty and the high-performing students who work alongside them is growing every day in relevance and importance,’’ President Caret said. “We want to accelerate these efforts because this research – and the new treatments, products, services and companies it spawns – adds tremendous value to society and impacts the quality of life in Massachusetts.’’

In addition to the six new startups, the University of Massachusetts recorded 157 patent applications and 180 faculty invention disclosures for Fiscal Year 2014, which ended June 30. In all three categories, it was the University’s best-ever yearly performance.

The University also was granted 54 patents for ideas that have the potential to be commercialized. UMass generated more than $31 million in licensing revenue in Fiscal Year 2014.

UMass has long been recognized as a national leader in generating licensing income and patents. More recently, it has ramped up efforts to convert faculty research into startup businesses.

With the increased focus on entrepreneurship, the University changed the name of the office responsible for commercializing its technology – from the Office of Commercial Ventures and Intellectual Property to the Office of Technology Commercialization and Ventures (OTCV). The office also houses the Massachusetts Technology Transfer Center (MTTC), which for more than a decade has assisted in the commercialization of research coming out of Massachusetts institutions, particularly through the creation of new companies.

The University of Massachusetts ranked 14th in licensing income among all US universities participating in a survey released last year by the Association of University Technology Managers. UMass was 6th among all public universities and 2nd in Massachusetts, behind MIT, with $35 million in licensing revenue, in that survey.

A recent study by the National Academy of Inventors and the Intellectual Property Owners Association found that UMass ranked among the top universities granted patents in 2013. UMass placed 32nd on the top 100 list, behind only MIT and Harvard in the six-state New England region.

“While commercializing our research remains a focal point of our work, we also want to challenge ourselves to raise our level of entrepreneurship so that our discoveries lead to the development of new business opportunities,’’ said  Bill Rosenberg, OTCV’s executive director.

As for patents, the University was granted 18 patents in 2006 compared to 54 this year. Patent applications have climbed by 52 percent from 103 to 157 between 2006 and this year, and faculty invention disclosures increased by nearly 28 percent, from 141 to 180.

“Research is one of the three pillars of the University of Massachusetts, along with teaching and public service,’’ President Caret said. “It is one of the things we do that helps give the Commonwealth a critical edge in the development of the innovation economy.’’

Those effort have been aided by Governor Deval Patrick and the Massachusetts Legislature, which this year provided $2 million in “proof of concept’’ funding to the MTTC. Half of those funds are reserved to help UMass faculty prove the commercial potential of their inventions and will be combined with OTCV’s own Proof of Concept Fund to enlarge the grants offered to researchers.

OTCV recently hosted its first-ever system-wide retreat on entrepreneurism that allowed the five campuses to share experiences and identify areas to build on to create a stronger entrepreneurial University system. As part of this effort, OTCV has established cross-campus working groups to develop an enhanced mentoring program and to create an “Entrepreneur in Residence’’ program to assist faculty and students interested in creating startups. In addition, OTCV has established a committee made up of academics from all five campuses and from multiple disciplines to examine UMass’ approach to entrepreneurial education.

The six companies spun out of UMass inventions this year were:

·        Voyager Therapeutics

“RNA Interference” by Phil Zamore, Guangping Gao, Neil Aronin and others at UMass Medical School

The company is developing gene therapy methods to treat several important neurological diseases including ALS, Parkinson and Huntington’s Disease.  Vogager will focus on adeno-associated virus (AAV) as the vector and will try to effect gene replacement or gene knockdown to effect the relevant protein production.  The company was financed by $45 million in funding from a venture capitalist and will be located in Cambridge.

·        Felsuma

“Geckskin-adhesive Technology” by Professors Al Crosby and Duncan Irshick at UMass Amherst

Felsuma is commercializing a new technology, Geckskin™, licensed from UMass Amherst. Geckskin is a three-dimensional and transformational adhesive that can attach and release repeatedly from multiple surfaces with high bonding strength.  It is based on technology developed in the laboratories of Professors Crosby in Polymer Science and Irschick in Biology. The major markets are large and include clothing, shoes, households, medical devices, military and construction. The company is headed by Rana Gupta, an entrepreneur and former venture capitalist. The UMass Seed Fund has invested initially $100k in the seed round with a commitment for another $100K  as the round is completed.

·        Aha! Productions/Innovation Accelerator

“Obscure Features Hypothesis” by Joseph McCaffrey from UMass Amherst

The company licenses UMass software technology that is useful in creativity and invention processes. The firm’s first product, Analogy finder, offers a software package that seeks to rationalize the process of creativity and invention.  The software seeks out analogous solutions to problems by hunting through patent databases, research libraries and other sources.  Innovation Accelerator is headed by James Pearson, an alumnus of UMass Amherst’s mechanical and engineering department.

·        Sonation

“Expert System for Musical Accompaniment” by Chris Raphael from UMass Amherst

The company is developing music software technology that transforms singing and playing instruments into a more interactive fun experience. It is creating apps that simulate playing with a full band or orchestra that listens and responds to the user’s style. The first product, Cadenza, is available at the iStore for use on the iPad. The product to be introduced in the next two years will expand the application to other devices, instruments and available music. The company is headed by Ann Chao, a Harvard MBA and former strategy consultant. The UMass Seed has invested $150K  in the seed round to be matched by new investment.

·        TATT, LLC

“Use of siRNA to Preserve Organs for Transplant” by Timothy Kowalik and Marc Uknis from UMass Medical School

The company is based on technology developed by Professors Kowalik and Uknis at the Medical School. The technology relates to the use of siRNA to improve organs being used for transplantation by minimizing (1) organ rejection, (2) transplantation-mediated transmission of viral infection, and (3) the triggering of apoptosis in transplanted tissue.

·         Agalimmune Ltd

“Cancer Immunotherapy” by Uri Galili from UMass Medical School

The company is developing innovative immunotherapies for the treatment of solid tumors based on Dr. Galili’s work.  The company is based in London and California and has received initial funding from Loxbridge Research LLP and Animatrix Capital LLP. Dr. Giles Whalen, professor of Surgical Oncology at UMass Medical School, is working with the company to bring its first product, Alphaject technology, to clinics.

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