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Universities launch incubators, accelerators and funds in 2019

November 14, 2019
By: Laura Lacy Graham

Universities frequently play an integral role in providing activities, research, and products that positively affect or support local, regional, state and national economic development or strategic goals.  In higher-education’s efforts to align its participation in innovation and entrepreneurship systems, universities’ incubators, accelerators and fund programs are essential in assisting their faculty, staff, or students in the services and support needed to create startups, bring products to market, or provide critically needed funding. Following on our recent review of research universities and their partnerships with industry, as well as our ongoing review of state activities in 2019 (see our stories on higher education and commercialization programs, free tuition offerings, climate change, clean energy, and broadband), this week we report on new university incubators, accelerators and funds launched in 2019.

The following programs represent some of those efforts.


In order to promote entrepreneurship both on its campus and throughout the region, the University of Alabama (UA) is increasing its alignment with local resources to better support innovators. To that effect, the Bama Technology Incubator, which includes on-campus laboratories and additional support for startup companies, recently changed its name to EDGE Labs and will serve as a strategic partner to The EDGE, a 26,000-square-foot off-campus business incubator that opened in February in a collaboration between UA, the City of Tuscaloosa and the Chamber of Commerce of West Alabama. EDGE Labs feature laboratories and equipment necessary for new businesses, provides technical infrastructure that helps UA faculty, researchers and students develop and test processes and prototypes that can be translated into products for the marketplace. The university’s Alabama Entrepreneurship Institute (AEI), managed by the Culverhouse College of Business, will work to integrate EDGE Labs into an overall suite of resources to support new and established business growth.


In March, Arizona State University (ASU) and SparkLabs Group, a network of accelerators and venture capital funds, announced that they were launching a new startup accelerator program for ASU students and alumni. The program – SparkLabs Frontier-ASU – will provide training, mentors and investment funding for participants in the university's schools and programs, including the engineering, business and global management schools. It also will offer a pre-accelerator component to help develop individual students and their startup ideas over three to four months, and is designed to improve their chances to be accepted into the primary accelerator program. The four-month accelerator was seeking applications through October and expected to accept six to eight startups when the program is fully operating. SparkLabs Frontier-ASU will be managed by ASU's Entrepreneurship + Innovation as a complement to ASU’s existing entrepreneur programs, and because SparkLabs is funding the accelerator through its investors, there is no cost to ASU for hosting the program.

In January, the founders of a venture capital fund that was formed to invest in companies spawned from the University of Arizona (UA) announced the launch of a second fund with a goal of raising $100 million. UA Venture Capital, founded in 2017 by Arizona businessman Fletcher McCusker, initially raised $20 million for its first fund, which focused on six startup companies to bring to market UA science, technology, services and intellectual property originating from faculty, students, alumni and affiliates. While exact investments were not disclosed, UA Venture Capital said investments averaged about $2 million each. UA Venture Capital is now in the process of raising money toward the target of $100 million for the second fund.


In February, the University of Arkansas announced that faculty could apply for startup support through a new gap fund, a subset of the Chancellor’s Fund, which will provide financial support for researchers at the university who were working toward launching startup companies. The Gap Fund will distribute up to $400,000 each year to applicant teams made up of faculty, graduate students and post-doctoral candidates after completing the National Science Foundation’s seven-week National I-Corps training program. Teams may apply to the Gap Fund for three pools of funding: up to $30,000 for prototype development, advancement and testing; up to $35,000 for a post-doctoral fellowship in commercialization, after which the team must submit at SBIR or STTR proposal; and up to $35,000 for a second phase of the post-doctoral fellowship while awaiting response on the SBIR or STTR proposal. Applications to the Gap Fund will be accepted from teams on a rolling basis. The University of Arkansas’ Chancellor’s Fund now has three subsets: The Innovation and Collaboration Fund, the Commercialization Fund, and the newly established Gap Fund. The Commercialization and Gap Funds are funded by the Walton Family Charitable Support Foundation. The Innovation and Collaboration Fund is substantially supported by an annual transfer of funds from the University’s Athletics Department.


Last month, Bowie State University (Maryland) reported that it had broken ground on a $42 million entrepreneurship living-learning community on its campus. The future entrepreneurship center and residence hall for 500 students is set to open in July 2021. Being built through a public-private partnership, the project is funded in part by tax exempt bonds issued through the Maryland Economic Development Corporation.  When completed, the new building will be home to the school’s Entrepreneurship Academy, which assists students in creating their own businesses, and the Bowie Innovation Center (Bowie BIC) – a business accelerator and collaborative workplace for technology companies and government contractors working in Prince George’s County. The center will also house dedicated space for student businesses, a student maker space, and will provide technology-infused classrooms in addition to student residences.


On Oct. 21, the University of Michigan (U-M) Board of Regents approved the creation of the Accelerate Blue Fund, which will provide seed capital to developing U-M startup companies. The fund, created by the U-M Tech Transfer Office, will assist in commercializing University of Michigan research discoveries and innovations. The new fund will be initially funded with $250,000 in donations secured for this purpose, while a fundraising effort is being launched with a goal of raising at least $20 million in additional gifts. The Accelerate Blue Fund will begin accepting startup investment applications after it has raised $2 million. It is modeled on the Michigan Biomedical Venture Fund (MBVF), which the Regents established in 2016 to support U-M startup companies with a biomedical or health care focus. The new fund will fill gaps for seed capital — outside the MBVF’s health care focus — for startups.

A new partnership between Red Cedar Ventures — a wholly owned venture investment subsidiary of the Michigan State University (MSU) Foundation — and the university’s Center for Venture Capital, Private Equity and Entrepreneurial Finance is bringing venture funding into the classroom. In a recently launched program, MSU students enrolled in Entrepreneurial Finance will assess university start-ups and make investments of up to $50,000 in those start-ups. The fund’s capital comes directly from Red Cedar Ventures, which will execute and hold student investment recommendations within the company’s portfolio.

New Jersey

Earlier this year, Rowan University in New Jersey, launched a 10-year, $50 million fund to boost economic development in the region through the commercialization of its research. The fund is part of a larger investment Rowan has in the City of Camden, where in 2012 it created the Cooper Medical School of Rowan University. As part of the Camden Health Research Initiative’s first grants, which seeks to further advance the emerging health sciences hub in Camden, as well as the development of more startups, totaling $3.06 million will go towards 24 different projects in 16 departments of the university.

New York

Columbia University, in partnership with Alexandria Real Estate Equities, is launching a new accelerator for early-stage life science companies. Alexandria LaunchLabs @ Columbia will focus on supporting life science start-ups based on innovations developed at Columbia and peer institutions. The accelerator will feature 14,000 square feet of co-working space, including laboratories and offices, and will provide founders with mentorship and access to seed-stage funding through Alexandria.


In April, the University of Texas (UT) Health Science Center at San Antonio announced that it was starting an internal accelerator program for research inventors who work at the Center (UT Health). The accelerator, which UT Health is calling TechNovum, picked its first group of prospective entrepreneurs in May to participate in its first program that ran from June to October. The accelerator, which just graduated its first cohort, assisted in the formation of eight new biomedical startups. The TechNovum program is an effort to better formalize the business, marketing, and entrepreneurial training that UT Health’s office of technology commercialization previously offered or engaged in on an ad-hoc basis, and because most of the inventions are very early stage, the accelerator can also focus on different areas or subjects or provide services than other accelerators for more advanced companies.

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