Image: Jun Ye, professor (Physics) and fellow at JILA, is the principal investigator of a solution to use frequency combs for disease diagnostics, a technology in the Embark portfolio.
Wanted: entrepreneurs ready to launch startups based on innovations created in CU Boulder’s research labs. The Embark Deep Tech Startup Creator is a new program created by Venture Partners at CU Boulder, the commercialization arm of CU, to match business minds outside the university with breakthrough inventions created within its walls—and provide those ventures with funding.
Each year, roughly 150 inventions emerge from CU Boulder’s research labs. Some are spun out and brought to market by the innovators themselves, while many more join an underutilized pool of university innovations. At the same time, many entrepreneurs are searching for the newest breakthrough technologies to bring to the marketplace but lack the needed access and support.
Given that symbiosis-to-be, Venture Partners has created Embark to bring together those would-be entrepreneurs and inventors in a unique way, said Bryn Rees, associate vice chancellor for research and innovation and managing director of Venture Partners. “Just because the university inventors didn’t create a startup company doesn’t mean the technology is not a really exciting startup opportunity,” he said. “We think some of our very best innovations are available, and Embark is a way to catalyze that.”
To that end, Venture Partners has curated a list of 50 promising innovations with strong commercial potential from a broad array of scientific and engineering disciplines. “The exciting element is that Embark brings to the table technologies from a variety of sectors. They’re not all in one bucket,” said Stephen Miller, director of venture development at Venture Partners. “No matter what sector you’re interested in, we’ve got a technology that has high potential that really needs a hard-driving innovator to move it forward.”
For example, Embark technologies include a health diagnostic invented through a JILA-based collaboration between the labs of National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) Fellows Jun Ye and David Nesbitt. By using quantum science and combining a special laser and a mirrored cavity, that team can precisely measure human breath with unprecedented sensitivity. That technology could be used to diagnose health conditions such as asthma, diabetes and COVID-19 in a simple, non-intrusive way.
Embark presents an exciting new avenue for ideas like the breath monitor to get out into the world where they can make a difference, according to Marta Zgagacz, director of licensing at Venture Partners. “[Our researchers] are extremely enthusiastic to have their technology go through the Embark program and hopefully come out the other side with a startup,” she said.
Entrepreneurs can learn about Embark technologies and apply to the program through Venture Partners. Successful applicants will then have several weeks to dive deeper into the technologies, learn about the startup resources available through the university, and meet with the inventors, who can play an important role in the startup if they choose. Entrepreneurs will then present their commercialization plans, and Venture Partners will select those who qualify for an exclusive partnership with the university for the chosen technology. Additionally, several successful applicants will be offered funding in the form of a six-month part-time salary as the founding CEOs and up to $100,000 for technology development.
Embark’s new funding stream, made possible by grants from CU Boulder and the Colorado Office of Economic Development and International Trade (OEDIT), is also intended to open new doors to underrepresented groups in the startup community. “As much as we’re interested in experienced, successful startup founders, we also want applications from folks who are earlier in their career or who otherwise wouldn’t be able to start a venture such as this without the salary support,” Rees said. “We hope that the funding will diversify our startup founders at the university.”
Embark joins a suite of support that Venture Partners already offers to inventors and entrepreneurs wanting to bring their innovations to market. That support includes I-CorpsTM, Destination Startup®, Ascent Deep Tech Accelerator, Lab Venture Challenge and a partnership with the Buff Venture Fund.