Harvard Accelerator Program, Proving Its Mettle with Startups and Pharma Partnerships, Looks to Raise Big New Fund

8/11/11Follow @gthuang

Here in Boston, we like to tout our universities, our faculty, our students. The academic community is one of the crowning strengths of the New England economy, not to mention a major driver of its global impact. But what have universities done for the local startup and business innovation community lately?

I’m not going to give a full answer here—it’s one of the broader themes I’m exploring around town—but I’ll give you a piece of the puzzle.

Harvard University’s Office of Technology Development has what it calls an “Accelerator Fund” that has been chugging along for four years now, and it has achieved some notable results. As of last month, the $10 million fund has given out $5.2 million in grants, which have supported more than 30 projects over five annual cycles. It’s still early to add up the returns on this investment, but already it has led to more than $10 million in partnership money for the university, and several startups that have received outside venture funding. (The Harvard office declined to give specifics on licensing revenues to date.)

What’s more, the model apparently has proven successful enough that the team is about to begin raising a much bigger fund, in the $20 million to $30 million range. And unlike in the past, when Harvard developed a laggardly reputation when it came to commercializing its research, universities around the country are starting to look at the school as a possible role model for technology transfer and startup development practices.

The Accelerator Fund, which Xconomy wrote about in early 2008, was created to help Harvard scientists commercialize their inventions by forming industry partnerships, licensing technology, and starting new companies, primarily in life sciences and biomedical fields. As technology development head and senior associate provost Isaac Kohlberg puts it, “The pipelines of Harvard were empty.” The school “suffered from a branding issue with stakeholders about the role of technology development,” he says.

Kohlberg and his team, which includes Curtis Keith, chief scientific officer of the Accelerator Fund, were brought in to overhaul Harvard’s tech transfer and development offices. Kohlberg joined … Next Page »

Gregory T. Huang is Xconomy's Deputy Editor, National IT Editor, and the Editor of Xconomy Boston. You can e-mail him at gthuang@xconomy.com. Follow @gthuang

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