UW Building $20M Fund to Back University Startups, Following the “Utah Model”
The University of Washington is in the final stages of putting together a $20 million investment fund, backed by wealthy individuals and foundations, that will rely heavily on business students to spin more startups out of university labs, Xconomy has learned.
The new source of capital, called the Husky Bridge Investment Fund, has received commitments of more than $13 million toward what is expected to become a $20 million fund, according to Linden Rhoads, the UW’s vice provost of the Center for Commercialization. The fund should be complete by early 2011 at the latest. Rhoads disclosed the new development at the end of a talk yesterday at the UW’s Computer Science & Engineering industrial affiliates meeting.
“We want to cut that first check and start the outside investment momentum,” Rhoads said. “If we are successful, the University of Washington will have the premier student-managed university-affiliated venture fund in the country.”
The UW conducts more than $1 billion worth of research each year, paid for mostly by the federal government, charitable foundations, and corporations. Despite all that creative work, the UW has long lagged behind such places as MIT and Stanford University at turning promising research breakthroughs into startup companies. More recently, the University of Utah, which conducts about one-fourth as much research as the UW, built a system that is now creating more than 20 companies a year. That’s about “10 times as many companies as we are,” Rhoads said.
It’s not an easy statistic for Rhoads to stomach, given that she’s an experienced Seattle high tech entrepreneur herself, and was hired in the summer of 2008 to shake up the university’s tech transfer operation. So the Husky Bridge Innovation Fund is a key part of her strategy to inject some entrepreneurial life into a campus that’s traditionally been more focused on the basics of research and teaching.
Rhoads only touched on this startup fund in passing during her talk, so I followed up with her directly afterwards to find out more details. The Husky fund is built on a partnership between the UW Center for Commercialization, which she leads, and the UW Foster School of Business’ Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, run by Connie Bourassa-Shaw.
Rhoads didn’t have much to say about the mechanics of how the Husky fund is supposed to work, although it is influenced in part by the “Utah model,” which involves students, Rhoads says. There will be a board of overseers who make investment decisions, but much of the early stage due diligence on prospective investments will be done by students. Business students will also be involved in doing some fundamental business tasks, such as helping researchers apply for … Next Page »