Published: Sept. 1, 2021

ascentStartup company founders who commercialize CU Boulder’s research innovations will be getting a boost in 2022. Ascent, a startup accelerator specifically created for CU Boulder innovators, will help founders launch their companies, raise investment capital, and gain market and partnership traction. Run by Venture Partners at CU Boulder, Ascent will provide a four-month intensive training to the university’s entrepreneurial researchers.

Companies that spin innovations out of university labs, sometimes called “deep tech” startups, face unique challenges. Because they disrupt established technologies, these new businesses often require more funding and longer periods of time to develop and bring their products to market. However, since the upside of breakthrough technology can be so substantial economically and socially (think sustainable energy, personalized medicine, and quantum computing), the deep tech startup scene is rapidly growing, including here at CU Boulder. Last year, CU Boulder tallied 20 new deep tech startups, an all-time high for our university and one of the highest totals among all universities nationally. 

Two example deep tech startups out of CU Boulder are VitriVax and Solid Power. VitriVax, co-founded by Professors Bob Garcea (molecular, cellular and developmental biology) and Ted Randolph (chemical and biological engineering), is developing single-shot, thermostable vaccines. Solid Power, founded by Professors Se Hee Lee and Conrad Stoldt from the Paul M. Rady Department of Engineering, has partnered with Ford and BMW to build electric vehicle batteries with significantly longer run life. Both companies have found success in raising investment capital, and Solid Power recently announced it will go public later this year. Ascent will help more CU Boulder startups follow in the footsteps of companies like VitriVax and Solid Power.

Venture Partners has designed the Ascent curriculum to meet the special challenges faced by deep tech startups, including those that come with being a founder at a university.

“For our scientists and engineers—whether they are faculty, graduate students or professional research staff—starting a company can be entirely new territory, and they typically do so while maintaining their university roles," said Bryn Rees, assistant vice chancellor for research and innovation and managing director of Venture Partners. "We understand the significant time constraints placed on university researchers, and the Ascent curriculum accommodates that. We start with the basics, as the trainings were built for folks new to entrepreneurship.”

The customization also extends to the content in Ascent. Participants will have previously completed prerequisite training under CU Boulder’s recently announced I-Corps program, which helps innovators find market-fit for their innovations. Then during Ascent, participants will continue their startup journey. Specialized tracks, including biotech, quantum, and energy/cleantech, will provide domain-specific content that aligns with company needs.

“With more than 150 deep tech startups having spun out of CU Boulder, we have learned the critical milestones that companies need to hit, and also where many of the key sticking points are," said Rees.

Ascent will address topics including founder equity, commercialization grant funding, building a team, and pitching to investors.

"Venture Partners has actually been delivering much of this training in separate programs over the past two years," said Rees. "Ascent just brings it all together.” 

Translating CU Boulder research into real-world impact is embedded within the university’s strategic imperatives to positively impact society, be a top university for innovation and develop tomorrow’s leaders. Ascent is the latest CU Boulder resource that will help bring those imperatives to life.

“The main message we want to convey with Ascent is that researchers wanting to commercialize their innovations through a new startup have a lot of support," said Rees. "That support comes from the full Venture Partners staff, from the entrepreneurs-in-residence that mentor Ascent participants and from their own cohort of peer participants."

Ascent will continue to grow CU Boulder’s prowess in creating successful and impactful deep tech companies. Applications will be open from Oct. 11 - Nov. 17, 2021 and the accelerator program kicks off in January 2022.