MIT Deshpande Center grant recipients form commercial ventures

Catalyst and i-Team assistance, private-equity network, and other support programs help new ventures raise $23 million in startup financing.

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. (August 16, 2005) -- As the Deshpande Center for Technological Innovation at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) enters its fourth annual funding cycle, over one third of the research teams it has supported are either in the process of forming new companies or have already raised financing and launched new ventures. Of the 44 teams that have won $4.9 million in Deshpande Ignition and Innovation Grants since 2002, nine teams have launched new companies, raising a total of more than $23 million in angel and first-round venture funding commitments, and an additional seven teams are forming new companies and seeking financing.

"The Deshpande Center is delivering on the promise to bridge the innovation gap between the research lab and the marketplace," said Dr. Charles L. Cooney, Faculty Director of the Center and MIT Professor of Chemical and Biochemical Engineering. "It's not just the modest financial assistance the Deshpande Center provides. Even more important is the enormous leverage the Center's staff and network of supporters in the academic and business communities provide. Their hands-on assistance accelerates the transformation of research teams developing scientific breakthroughs into commercial ventures delivering useful real-world applications."

The Deshpande Center awards two kinds of grants: Ignition Grants to research teams that are in the very early stages of determining technical feasibility of breakthrough ideas, and Innovation Grants to teams that are starting to make choices leading to development of go-to-market plans, apply their research to the most promising markets, and start thinking about raising financing for new commercial ventures or to pursuing licensing of innovations to commercial partners.

The Center also supports each team with a structured set of programs and referrals to other resources, including assignment of a catalyst volunteer; opportunities for exposure at events and other activities; introductions to entrepreneurs, investors, and customers; and possible participation in the unique "i-Teams" course.

"As the Deshpande Center actively nurtures and promotes individual research projects with commercial potential, it is also defining a process for accelerating innovations and guiding them to important practical applications," said Krisztina Holly, Executive Director of the Center. "In the three years we have been working with our grant recipients, we have started to see how an eclectic but focused group of supporters with a broad range of experiences can help academic researchers realize the potential value of their ideas. We are also gratified to see this process successfully applied to innovations in so many fields, ranging from nanotech and new materials to computer science and communications to health and medicine and beyond."

Examples of the kinds of projects that have spun out of the Deshpande Center are:

  • A powered orthotic device that enables independence and self-treatment for stroke survivors. The developers won the MIT $50K Entrepreneurship Competition, formed a company, Myomo, and are in clinical trials at a major leading rehabilitation center and teaching hospital in the Boston area.
  • A quantum dot memory technology that was licensed to a west coast startup in 2004.
  • A cell therapy technology that led to the formation of Pervasis Therapeutics, with an A round from Polaris Ventures and Flagship Venture Partners.

Holly said the Center's success has enhanced MIT's traditional role as a national leader in driving not only pure scientific research but also in fostering research-driven innovations that have important, practical commercial applications. MIT is known for its innovativeness; it performs over $1 billion in sponsored research, and the Technology Licensing Office reports an average stream of over 450 inventions disclosed and 150 patents issued annually over the last five years.

"The Deshpande Center has taken advantage of this fertile innovation environment to demonstrate that a well-defined process designed to nurture and support innovation can accelerate the migration of ideas from the lab to practical commercial application," Holly said.

About the MIT Deshpande Center for Technological Innovation

The Deshpande Center is part of the MIT School of Engineering and was established through an initial $20 million gift from Jaishree Deshpande and Desh Deshpande, the co-founder and chairman of Sycamore Networks. It serves as a catalyst for innovation and entrepreneurship by supporting leading-edge research and bridging the gap between the laboratory and marketplace. The Deshpande Center supports a wide range of emerging technologies, including biotechnology, medical devices, information technology, new materials, "tiny technologies," and environmental innovation.