Federal dollars spark aerospace, biotech, laser spin-offs

Published: April 26, 2017 By

Distinguished Professor Margaret Murnane and Professor Henry Kapteyn, both of the physics department

Physics Professors Margaret Murnane, right, and Henry Kapteyn of JILA with a laser apparatus in their laboratory on campus on Aug. 25, 2010.

As Congress determines the funding levels for the federal science agencies for fiscal years 2017 and 2018, a new report highlights 102 spin-off companies—three from the University of Colorado Boulder—that demonstrate how investments in basic scientific research benefit the overall economy.

The study, American-Made Innovation, Sparking Economic Growth, was released by the Science Coalition, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization of more than 50 of the nation’s leading public and private research universities. It is dedicated to sustaining the federal government’s investment in basic scientific research as a means to stimulate the economy, spur innovation and drive America’s global competitiveness.

The new report identifies 102 companies that exist because academic researchers had access to competitively awarded grants from agencies under consideration to receive cuts in current White House budget proposals. These agencies include the National Institutes of Health, National Science Foundation, Department of Energy, Department of Agriculture and the National Institute of Standards and Technology.

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For more information on industry partnerships, visit CU Boulder’s Research and Innovation Office (RIO).

The three featured CU Boulder spin-off companies include:

  • Ball Aerospace & Technology Corp. of Broomfield, Colorado, which develops instruments, spacecraft, data exploitation solutions and technologies for civil, commercial, aerospace and defense applications. The group was founded in 1956 as Ball Brothers Research Corporation by a small team of CU Boulder physics students and professors.
  • SomaLogic Inc. of Boulder, which uses proteomics technology to detect and diagnose diseases. The company was founded by Professor Larry Gold of the molecular, cellular and developmental biology department.
  • Kapteyn-Murnane Laboratories Inc. of Boulder, which uses ultrashort pulse femtosecond laser systems for imaging, measurements and research. The company was founded by the husband-and-wife team of Distinguished Professor Margaret Murnane and Professor Henry Kapteyn, both of the physics department.

"The companies recognized in this report are among those we’re most proud of and they demonstrate just a fraction of the impact of the university’s collaborations with federal agencies and our partners in industry and the community," said Vice Chancellor for Research & Innovation Terri Fiez. "Collectively, we serve as a powerful engine for innovation and economic impact in Colorado and across the country."

The total public investment in the foundational research behind the 102 companies was just over $265 million spread over several decades. The companies employ 8,900 workers in communities across the country. They are paying taxes, purchasing materials, equipment and services, and otherwise contributing to their local economies.

According to the new report, the initial federal research investment is small. Eighty percent of the companies in the report cited less than $5 million as the amount of federal funding received for their foundational work. For 40 percent of companies, this amount was less than $1 million.

The 102 companies highlighted are predominantly small businesses, like most companies in the United States. Sixty-five percent of companies have fewer than 100 employees. But the companies still collectively employ 8,900 people.

In addition, two other CU Boulder spin-off companies were highlighted in previous reports by the Science Coalition. They are:

  • ColdQuanta of Boulder, which designs, develops, and manufactures instruments and systems for quantum technology.
  • Linerate Systems Inc. of Louisville, Colorado, acquired by F5 Networks of Seattle, Washington, in 2013, which specializes in application delivery networking technology for the delivery of web applications and the security, performance, availability of servers, data storage devices and other network and cloud resources.