Drexel University already ranks among the top 50 universities worldwide when it comes to patent awards developed by faculty members, said Keith Orris, university senior vice president of corporate relations and economic development.
And with Thursday's announcement of Drexel's new funding partnership with Ben Franklin Technology Partners and a mentoring relationship with Wayne-based Safeguard Scientifics, university inventors and entrepreneurs will have 10 million new reasons to keep the research fires burning, the brainstorms exploding.
Drexel and Ben Franklin are teaming up to create a seed fund to support the creation of spin-off companies from university projects. For every investment dollar up to $5 million that Drexel raises, Ben Franklin will match the money, Orris said. This seed money will be put toward projects that have "already been vetted with proof of concept programs" previously funded by Drexel last year to the tune of $2 million, Orris said.
In addition, venture capitalists of Safeguard Scientifics will be a "valued mentor" to the university innovators, said Shintaro Kaido, director of start-up services for Drexel Ventures, a university division. Although they are not moving into the university's Innovation Center@3401 collaborative work space at 34th and Market Streets, personnel from Ben Franklin and Safeguard will be regular visitors and counselors.
As is common practice at universities, the intellectual property created by Drexel professors is owned by Drexel.
Patent developers enjoy "a very attractive licensing policy, where they share in the patent royalties and licensing of their creations," Orris said. Now the new fund gives them added incentive to create - and remain with Drexel - "as it encourages them to start up their own companies" without leaving University City, then grow those seeds into blooming ventures that can earn major backing and/or become targets for acquisition, he said.
After 10 years of "concerted investment" - much of it from the human health-focused Coulter Foundation - Drexel has "a pipeline of technologies" coming out of Drexel's technology transfer and commercialization office, Kaido said. Among the most promising is an intelligent breast cancer detector developed by School of Biomedical Engineering, Science and Health Systems associate professor Wan Y. Shih and her husband Wei-Heng Shih, a professor in the Materials Science and Engineering Department. The team also is utilizing intelligent sensors to instantly assess the thoroughness of a tumor removal and to test for common bacterial infections .
While the seed funding of up to "a couple hundred thousand dollars" per candidate first will be focused on helping faculty-steered ventures across all university disciplines, the candidate pool eventually will be expanded to include start-ups founded by Drexel alumni and students.
For instance, Orris noted Orange Maker, which moved a month ago to the Innovation Center and is working on a next-generation, higher-resolution 3D printing technology. Company cofounder Doug Farber is a recent Drexel alum.
The Innovation Center also houses the ExCiTeCenter for hands-on student project development, the world headquarters of DreamIt Ventures, and application-tools maker point.io, "which moved in from the suburbs a year ago, has quickly expanded to about 35 employees, and is actively engaged in the Drexel ecosystem," Orris said.