i6 Challenge 2010 Project Updates
St. Louis i6 Challenge Project Team Lead Organization: BioGenerator
The St. Louis region has made great strides in the creation of dedicated incubator and post-incubator laboratory facilities, capital, and support services for the development of bioscience companies.
Yet a gap exists at the earliest stage, where basic research from our institutions and nascent entrepreneurs is too undeveloped to sustain viable company formation. The St. Louis i6 Project is designed to fill this gap in the region’s commercialization continuum by vetting innovative technologies with startup potential and providing resources to de-risk and advance those technologies to third party funding (e.g. investments, grants, contracts).
The i6 Project plan leverages (A) existing regional expertise; (B) new infrastructure positioned to lower costs of translational laboratory research, and (C) existing infrastructure resources with successful track records. It will increase the number and quality of technologies advanced to first funding.
The Project represents a unique, innovative partnership between the St. Louis region’s non-profit commercialization organizations, its world-renowned research institutions, its urban and suburban governments, and the bioscience commercialization infrastructure that has been developed, along with additional expertise resident in the region individuals and small groups with entrepreneurial and industry expertise.
In its first ten months the Project has developed a procurement process, finalized the application process, assembled a group of local experts to review proposals, marketed the program and triggered the first round of applications, triaged these proposals, and selected six finalists. Awardees receive extensive support services and resources to advance their technologies to company creation and first funding.
Over the next few weeks we will announce initial awardees and trigger funding of action plans, contracting out activities that address key business and technical milestones. The Project also triggered a second round of applications; our goal is to announce the final group of awardees by the end of 2011.
Innovation Works’ (IW) and Carnegie Mellon University’s (CMU) EDA-funded i6 Agile Innovation System
Innovation Works’ (IW) and Carnegie Mellon University’s (CMU) EDA-funded i6 Agile Innovation System is accelerating the commercialization of technologies being developed within the region’s universities and small businesses. The Agile Innovation System integrates the technological and educational strengths of CMU with the company-creation strengths of IW. By combining these strengths into a regional company development system, IW and CMU are creating a best-practice methodology for deriving regional economic benefit from federally funded research and student/faculty-generated opportunities. The system represents an extension of current commercialization and innovation models, but incorporates an adaptation of innovative “agile development” methods originally used in manufacturing that have since expanded to many industries. To date, 18 companies have participated in the i6 Agile Innovation program.
Agile innovation is based upon the belief that a company must intimately understand customer need by interfacing with customers as early as possible even before a product has been developed. A prototype product is quickly developed and presented to customers for feedback; that feedback is then used to refine and improve the product. This iterative process is repeated so that a marketable product addressing customer needs can very quickly come to market. This agile innovation process is taught through the i6 program, ensuring that companies understand its value and how to implement it to maximize the success of their product offerings.
Each team or company is paired with three distinct mentors from the program’s extensive mentor network. The first mentor is a “quarterback” either an IW or CMU Entrepreneur-in-Residence who helps guide a company through the agile innovation process. The second mentor is a Business Mentor who has domain or functional experience that can quickly influence the direction of the company and their product. Lastly, a Product Mentor such as a current Product Manager or CTO helps the company navigate the realities of commercializing their products. These three mentors, focusing on process, function and implementation, are helping participating companies get better products to market in a shorter period of time, improving their competitiveness and laying the groundwork for success.
The i6 Challenge at Technology Ventures Corporation (TVC)
Technology Ventures Corporation (TVC) proposed to facilitate nine tasks for the i6 Challenge Grant.
TVC personnel were to begin the process by identifying current SBIR awardees who could benefit from the extensive program TVC has created to aid entrepreneurs in developing technology-based start-up companies and who could attract venture capital funding.
The TVC plan was to contact all active SBIR Phase II awardees. There were 75 actives identified. Of these, 45 had not received TVC commercialization assistance in the past. These organizations are being contacted and informed of the services offered by TVC.
The services offered include (1) assessment of the commercial viability of the research, (2) entrepreneurial skills training, (3) intellectual property (IP) development, (4) assistance in developing a written business plan, (5) facilitation of introduction to venture capital and other private equity sources of funding. In many of these areas, such as IP strategy planning and entrepreneurial skills development, concentrated education training is offered. For example, the entrepreneurial skills portion consists of six four-hour training modules on various topics from finance to business law. To enhance the real-world perspective, TVC is teaming with the New Mexico Angel network of investors to provide unencumbered insights to venture funding.
Historically, the SBIR program has not created many new viable commercial enterprises. However, there have been a few and some of those have been the successes that the venture investment community calls “homeruns.” TVC's goal in the i6 Challenge program is the successful promotion of SBIR engaged companies into the commercial business sphere.
The Oregon innovation Cluster
In 2005, Oregon’s Governor and Legislature brought together 50 leaders from the private sector, universities, venture capitalists and government to create new ways to build innovation into the DNA of Oregon’s business. The process took 1,200 hours of volunteer time, and established the Oregon Innovation Council which in turn established three Signature Research Centers each tackling different emerging industry clusters: The Oregon Translational Research and Drug Development Institute (OTRADI), The Oregon Nanoscience and Microtechnologies Institute (ONAMI) and Oregon Built Environment and Sustainable Technologies (Oregon BEST). The collaboration born between OTRADI, ONAMI and Oregon BEST became the Oregon Innovation Cluster and is the 2010 winner of the i6 Challenge in the Seattle Region.
In the first months of operation under the EDA i6 Award, the Oregon Innovation Cluster has begun to focus on the four core missions of the grant, including:
- Providing technical and business assistance services to start-up companies
- Making proof-of-concept grants to universities involved with start-up companies
- Attracting financial capital to Oregon
- Establishing internship and sabbatical opportunities for high school through postdoctoral students
In particular, Oregon BEST has now funded grants at Portland State University and Oregon Institute of Technology to complete prototype testing of an innovative energy-efficient thermal window insert and to develop the electronics, software, and hardware necessary to produce a prototype two-seat, hybrid gas-electric, commuter vehicle with Green Lite Motors.
OTRADI is finalizing details with the Oregon University System and Oregon Health & Science University for a $6M investment to establish and run an accelerator for start-up bioscience companies within a new $300M Collaborative Life Science Building. OTRADI will manage the accelerator facility with plans to house start-up companies and a bioscience venture fund. OTRADI has also trained a high-school intern to conduct high-throughput screening for new antibiotics using state-of-the-art robotics.
ONAMI completed the selection of three Entrepreneurs-in-Residence (EIRs) to work with ONAMI startup companies to position them for growth and to attract financing. The EIRs will also work with ONAMI and university tech transfer staff to identify promising technology proof-of-concept teams to develop in Oregon.
The group collectively has sponsored the Willamette Angel Conference, an event that helps start-up companies find investors and culminates in a $200,000 investment awarded to a top start-up company from separate funds, as well as Angel Conferences in Portland, the Columbia Gorge and Southern Oregon.
The OIC also helped to plan an EDA i6 Awardees’ Conference in Akron, OH which culminated in preparing a white paper delivered to the EDA summarizing all of the 2010 i6 awardees’ plans of action, challenges and shared best practices we are undertaking.
While we have much left to do in the coming year, the OIC is making great progress delivering on our goals to strengthen the innovation ecosystem in Oregon to develop new sustainable, high wage jobs in our economic clusters.