The Kauffman Foundation: Bringing Entrepreneurship Up to Date in Kansas City

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their hands are almost tied behind their backs, just because of the responsibilities they have in the lab,” Miller says. The fellowship program seeks to remedy that problem by giving promising postdoctoral researchers who are already leaning toward entrepreneurship the freedom to develop their business ideas.

The program pays the fellows’ usual salary and benefits for a year; in return, the principal investigator in each postdoc’s lab is required to release them for at least 20 hours per week to work on launching new ventures around their scientific or engineering findings. The fellows are also paired with local businesses for hands-on internships, and they gather four times per year for intensive week-long workshops at the Kauffman Foundation. (The first such workshop was held last week.)

Two members of the first class of Kauffman Entrepreneur Postdoctoral Fellows are based in Cambridge, MA, Xconomy’s first hometown, and I got to meet them at the reception. Both, not too surprisingly, are from the family of MIT and Harvard laboratories sometimes collectively referred to as the “Langer Lab,” after Robert Langer, the prolific MIT biomedical engineer (and Xconomist) who has trained so many of the area’s leading researchers and entrepreneurs.

Carolina Salvador Morales, an immunoengineering expert, is a postdoc in Langer’s lab at MIT and is developing ways to stimulate the complement system, part of the human immune system, using physically and chemically manipulated nanoparticles. Praveen Kumar Vemula, a postdoc in the laboratory of Langer protege Jeffrey Karp in the Harvard-MIT Division of Health Science and Technology at Harvard Medical School, is investigating the use of drug-infused polymers called hydrogel to treat inflammatory conditions and brain tumors.

Both researchers, before the year-long Kauffman fellowships are over, could find themselves as chief scientific officers at new pharmaceutical startups—but they’ll need help doing it. “The Langer Lab has a pretty good track record at commercialization and entrepreneurship, but the thing is, the postdocs are in there cranking things out, and they still need help with how to take the next steps” toward creating companies, says Miller. “Bob Langer and Jeffrey Karp have been really supportive, giving Carolina and Praveen this time away from the bench. Both Praveen and Carolina have really proven their scientific chops and have made some fascinating discoveries, and have such a strong passion to see their research become real and ultimately to help patients.”

The whole idea of the fellowships is to help the researchers past the practical hurdles they’ll face as they pursue their passions—the better to ensure that fast-growing, job-generating companies come out the other end. But while the majority of the fellows in the inaugural class already have specific technologies they want to pursue, Miller says she doesn’t expect that every single one of those ideas will lead to a company. “A few of them will … Next Page »

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Wade Roush is a contributing editor at Xconomy. Follow @wroush

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