Fourteen university innovators pitched their technologies at Lab Venture Challenge (LVC), a funding competition hosted by Venture Partners at CU Boulder that helps commercially-promising technologies accelerate into impactful business ventures. Judges from the local entrepreneurial ecosystem awarded a record total of 12 grants—up to $125,000 each—for the top physical science, engineering and bioscience innovations demonstrating high commercial potential, a clear path to a compelling market and strong scientific support.
Adapting to a virtual format this year, LVC was split into two categories over two days: Biosciences on Nov. 18 and Physical Sciences & Engineering on Nov. 19. Finalists delivered 8-minute pitches and navigated four minutes of Q&A from a panel of business leaders, entrepreneurs, investors and intellectual property experts.
“With $1.35 million allocated, this was the largest Lab Venture Challenge to date," said Brynmor Rees, assistant vice chancellor for Research & Innovation and managing director of Venture Partners. "More importantly, we saw incredibly strong pitches, more diversity among the finalists and ventures with high impact potential."
Zoya Popovic, distinguished professor of electrical, computer & energy and chief science officer of LumenAstra also took home an LVC prize. Alongside CEO Jim Pollock, Popovic explained how her company is developing a wearable sensor capable of measuring temperature deep below the skin, such as in cancerous tumors and in the brain post injury or stroke. Current methods like catheters and needles are invasive, uncomfortable, and inaccurate, but LumenAstra's solution offers the opposite. It's small and non-invasive while providing constant, accurate measurements and detects critical, early-warning signs before additional damage can take place.
"If it were not for the personalized attention and advice from Venture Partners, I would have never met Jim or been encouraged to join him in commercializing the ideas developed in my lab," said Popovic. "The LVC funding means that the company and product we set out to develop is not only a fun adventure, but also an obligation to provide a useful product to future users."
LVC winner Scott Palo, endowed professor of aerospace engineering and CEO of Blue Cubed, and his team are looking to bring their technology—a small, hybrid modular broadband satellite communication system—to market. Current satellites use radio frequency (or RF) systems for communications, but RFs are a fixed resource and bandwidth can be an issue. Optical, or laser communications, have nearly unlimited bandwidth and can address this scarcity problem, but weather can sometimes affect connectivity. Palo's solution combines both RF & optical systems, which provide guaranteed communication links in all-weather conditions while enabling faster rates using its patented cobalt-optical transceiver.
To prepare for the showcase, finalists were encouraged to participate in Venture Partners' Commercialization Academy customer discovery programs, such as Starting Blocks and Research-to-Market. Many also attended "Elements of Entrepreneurship" workshops, a monthly series that teaches the basics of building a high-tech, university-based startup. In addition, CU Boulder Entrepreneurs in Residence (EIRs), commercialization mentors and Venture Partners staff provided critical feedback so finalists could refine their presentations and practice engaging different business audiences in order to attract funding.
In the spring and summer of 2021, all of the LVC awardees will complete the Research-to-Market program. In addition, toward the end of the funding period, awardees will present their progress from the LVC and collaborate with EIRs, mentors and Venture Partners staff to set the commercialization path forward.
LVC funding comes from the Colorado Office of Economic Development & International Trade’s (OEDIT) AIA program, Venture Partners at CU Boulder and the Chancellor’s Innovation Fund.