ANN ARBORâ€”U-M Tech Transfer, the unit responsible for commercializing University of Michigan research discoveries and innovations, will create the Accelerate Blue Fund to provide seed capital to nascent U-M startup companies.
Creation of the fund was approved Oct. 17 by the U-M Board of Regents.
â€œThere are enormous benefits to the university and our region in accelerating the growth of U-M startup companies and maintaining a vibrant startup ecosystem,â€� said Kelly Sexton, U-M associate vice president for research-technology transfer and innovation partnerships.
â€œStudents and faculty are attracted to universities that facilitate innovation and entrepreneurship at all levels, and we believe the Accelerate Blue Fund will extend the progress U-M has already made in this area.â€�
A nonprofit, philanthropic fund is ideal for this type of investment, she added, because early-stage startup investing requires patient capital and risk tolerance.
The new fund will be initially funded with $250,000 in donations secured for this purpose. A fundraising effort is being launched with a goal of raising at least $20 million in additional gifts. The fund will begin accepting startup investment applications after it has raised $2 million.
Wendell Brooks, president of Intel Capital and U-M Engineering alumnus, provided a personal gift to seed the fund.
â€œI am proud to be an early supporter of the Accelerate Blue Fund,â€� he said. â€œI am a strong believer that the university needs to invest in and nurture startups from our talented faculty and students. I know my donation to this evergreen fund will support the Michigan startup ecosystem and keep our best and brightest in Ann Arbor.â€�
The Accelerate Blue Fund 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 fills a gap for seed capitaâ€”outside the MBVFâ€™s health care focusâ€”for startups whose products have early market validation, a strong value proposition, a feasible commercial path, at least one founder focused on the venture, and a good chance at follow-on funding or exit within two years of securing seed capital.
â€œOpportunities for collaborative innovation at the University of Michigan are unparalleled given our strengths in research and scholarship across a wide variety of disciplines,â€� said Rebecca Cunningham, U-M interim vice president for research.
â€œThe Accelerate Blue Fund will help ensure that innovations developed on our campuses achieve broader use to help solve challenging societal problems and enhance the quality of life.â€�
The Accelerate Blue Fund will be supervised by a fund manager working under the direction of Sexton and guided by an investment advisory board, chaired by Chris Rizik, U-M Law alumnus and CEO of Renaissance Venture Capital.
â€œItâ€™s wonderful to see U-M bring additional investment capital into our ecosystem,â€� Rizik said. â€œIt is addressing a critical need.â€�
Richard Douglas is chairman of the U-M Tech Transfer National Advisory Board, LSA alumnus and an Accelerate Blue Fund donor. He emphasized that the fundâ€™s primary objective is to enhance the transfer of U-M innovations into the world.
â€œWe are confident these early investments into U-M startups will help them propel U-M innovations forward so they have a greater chance of making a positive societal impact,â€� he said. â€œThatâ€™s what this is all about.â€�
LSA alumnus Robert Bronstein, co-founder of Scion, North Americaâ€™s leading private owner and operator of student housing, also provided an early donation.
â€œThis gift achieves my goal of supporting the university in a direct and tangible way,â€� he said. â€œIn addition to promoting research and innovation, the Accelerate Blue fund is the perfect vehicle to create opportunity and economic growth.â€�
U-M Tech Transfer recently reported that a record 22 startup companies were launched at the university in fiscal year 2019. The office will host the 19th annual Celebrate Invention to highlight the universityâ€™s growing innovation ecosystem on Oct. 22 at the Michigan League.
Written by David Wilkins