Industry-Academic Program to Grow Entrepreneurial Know-How

Timothy Folta, professor of management, leads a class at the Graduate Business Learning Center in Hartford. (Peter Morenus/UConn File Photo)
Timothy Folta, professor of management, leads a class at the Graduate Business Learning Center in Hartford. Folta is director of the Connecticut Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation at UConn. (Peter Morenus/UConn File Photo)

A new industry-academic initiative to increase entrepreneurial education and output among the state’s top researchers has been launched recently by the University of Connecticut, Unilever, Quinnipiac and Wesleyan Universities, and The Jackson Laboratory, with funding through a grant from the CTNext Higher Education Entrepreneurship and Innovation Fund.

The goal of the initiative is to increase the number of successful ventures coming out of universities in the state; launch new products and/or business lines with corporate partners; attract investment and partnership deals for these startups and products; and improve the entrepreneurial ecosystems at these institutions to better attract and retain researchers.

“We are pleased to mark another milestone in our mission to foster entrepreneurship and innovation across Connecticut,” says Glendowlyn Thames, executive director of CTNext. “This industry-academic initiative is well positioned to increase collaboration and partnership among our state’s higher-education institutions and our state’s most important industries. We look forward to following their progress as execution and implementation begins.”

CTNext is Connecticut’s go-to resource for entrepreneurial support. Its mission is to build a robust community of entrepreneurs and to accelerate startup growth by providing access to talent, space, industry expertise, services, skill development, and capital to foster innovation and create jobs in Connecticut. Launched in 2012, the organization currently has more than 2,800 members in its network.

The new industry-academic initiative, which is part of the second funding round of CTNext’s Higher Education Entrepreneurship and Innovation Fund, will provide targeted training modules to attract and retain high-value researchers, and encourage engagement in Connecticut’s growing innovation and entrepreneurship ecosystem. Program leaders anticipate that participants will come from early to mid-stage companies, including university startups, and corporate labs.

Radenka Maric, vice president for research at UConn and UConn Health, says the new initiative fills a need. She says many of the training opportunities that are currently available are primarily focused on Connecticut’s student entrepreneurs. “While these programs are extremely valuable, they miss the distinct and high-value players in our ecosystem, namely researchers from industry and academia, and those in leadership roles who have a major impact on an organization’s culture,” Maric says. “We’re very grateful to CTNext for giving us the needed funding to provide these high-potential individuals with customized training to help their technologies turn into businesses and products.”

The program is designed to prepare aspiring entrepreneurs working as academic or industry researchers who may lack the needed business training to move high-potential innovations to market. With the proper support, program officials hope that more researchers will be better positioned to form new startups with help from existing programs like UConn’s Technology Incubation Program or seek successful licensing deals with support from tech transfer experts at the participating institutions.

The multifaceted program will include entrepreneurship workshops and retreats for a select group of faculty and researchers interested in commercialization, as well as Connecticut-based executives and promising employees, to learn more about entrepreneurship within a corporate setting. A marquee “Presidential Executive Workshop” would bring these various stakeholders together to learn from experienced venture capitalists, entrepreneurs, investors, and executive leaders.

The initiative also seeks to integrate business mentorship and executive networks around the state to better identify, screen, match and manage mentors from within the participating organizations and beyond.

“The Jackson Laboratory looks forward to participating in the CTNext program and exploring opportunities that may rely on our intellectual property,” says BJ Bormann, vice president for translational science and network alliances at JAX. “Developing a peer group of mentors, financiers, and entrepreneurs across the state will provide us all with an excellent network, and an important forum for advice and ‘live’ commentary.”

To date, CTNext has funded 12 projects through the Higher Education Entrepreneurship and Innovation Fund. To learn more about the initiative and CTNext, visit https://ctnext.com/.

This program is jointly operated by the UConn Office of the Vice President for Research and the Connecticut Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation at UConn.