The University of Tennessee Health Science Center (UTHSC) has received a nearly $500,000 i6 Challenge Award from the United States Economic Development Administration (EDA) to establish a Proof-of-Concept Center at UTHSC in partnership with Memphis Bioworks Foundation. The award was announced recently by U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker as part of the EDA’s 2016 Regional Innovation Strategies (RIS) program, which aims to expand commercialization programs across the country.
The UTHSC Proof-of-Concept Center will be located in Memphis, a cornerstone city for a region that is investing in innovation and entrepreneurship to overcome longstanding economic challenges and population health burdens. As a research-intensive health science center, UTHSC is highly focused on understanding and solving the medical challenges facing the region’s majority African-American population, such as elevated levels of diabetes, respiratory disorders, stroke, cancer, obesity, cardiovascular disease and sickle cell disease. The RIS i6 Challenge funding will help connect innovative UTHSC medical researchers and their technologies to business and entrepreneurial expertise via a partnership with Memphis Bioworks Foundation. It will also support collaborative efforts with the University of Tennessee Research Foundation (UTRF) — the technology transfer arm of the University of Tennessee — with the overarching goal of offering novel solutions for regional health challenges, and directly contributing to job creation and economic development in the region and state.
Vice Chancellor for Research Steven R. Goodman, PhD, who served as the principal investigator on the grant, said the award will help cultivate an entrepreneurial culture at UTHSC.
“I am very appreciative and excited about the Department of Commerce funding our proposal for the UTHSC Proof-of-Concept Center,” Dr. Goodman said. “This partnership between UTHSC and (Memphis) Bioworks (Foundation) will support development grants to stimulate entrepreneurship among our faculty, provide additional support for our innovative CORNET Awards program, and establish a new Entrepreneur-in-Residence program.”
Memphis Bioworks Foundation will recruit an Entrepreneur-in-Residence professional with deep experience in commercialization to support innovative teams at the new UTHSC Proof-of-Concept Center, through its Entrepreneurship-Powered Innovation Center (EPIcenter), a collaborative and community-wide strategic initiative that is helping entrepreneurs conceive, launch and scale businesses in the Memphis area. Steve Bares, PhD, president and executive director of Memphis Bioworks Foundation, is encouraged by the partnership and excited to offer novel economic guidance to UTHSC researchers and the Memphis community at large.
“Providing resources like Entrepreneurs in Residence within academic medical centers has been shown to help validate and de-risk the translation of research breakthroughs into commercial products and businesses,” Dr. Bares said. “We’re proud to partner with UTHSC to help provide resources like the Entrepreneur-in-Residence program in order to increase new life science companies in Memphis, which can attract capital to the region and directly create jobs.”
The new Entrepreneurs in Residence will also oversee UTRF’s Maturation Awards, which will be moved into the UTHSC Proof-of-Concept Center. Established in 2008, the UTRF Maturation Awards fund small research studies that aid the commercialization of intellectual property invented by UT faculty, staff and students. Richard Magid, PhD, vice president of the University of Tennessee Research Foundation for UTHSC, served as a collaborator on the grant. He states the Maturation Awards will not only be moved forward, but a new ‘Phase II’ Maturation Award will also be developed, allowing for additional funding of projects showing the highest commercial potential.
“The i6 Challenge grant from the Department of Commerce will allow us to bring a dedicated Entrepreneur in Residence into the commercialization process and to expand the UTRF Maturation Grant program,” Dr. Magid said. “This will benefit all aspects of technology transfer at UTHSC, leading to stronger startup companies and more pioneering medical products based on UTHSC innovations.”
The UTHSC Proof-of-Concept Center grant was selected from a pool of more than 215 applicants. A total of 35 organizations are being awarded nearly $15 million in federal funding for the creation and expansion of cluster-focused, proof-of-concept and commercialization programs and early-stage seed capital funds through the RIS program, which is broken into two categories — i6 Challenge and the Seed Fund Support (SFS) Grant competition, respectively.
The Office of Innovation and Entrepreneurship (OIE), located within the U.S. Department of Commerce’s EDA, leads the RIS Program to catalyze innovation capacity-building activities in regions across the nation. The program is authorized through the America COMPETES Reauthorization Act of 2010, and received a dedicated appropriation for the first time in fiscal year 2014.
To read more about the Regional Innovation Strategies Program please visit: https://www.eda.gov/oie/ris.