Oct. 22, 2008

Weill Hall business incubator gets new momentum with <br />$7.5 million McGovern gift

Weill Hall's planned life sciences business incubator has a new name and new momentum, thanks to a $7.5 million gift from Kevin M. McGovern '70, his wife, Lisa, and their two children, Jarrett '03 and Ashley '08. In recognition of the gift, the former IDEA Center is now the Kevin M. McGovern Family Center for Venture Development in the Life Sciences.

McGovern, named Cornell's Entrepreneur of the Year in 2007, is a trustee and member of several Cornell organizations related to life sciences, including the Life Sciences Advisory Board and the Cornell University Technology Transfer Advisory Committee. He is also chairman of the Executive Committee of the Entrepreneurship@Cornell Council. His firm, McGovern Capital, owns a number of companies that bring biotechnology- and nanotechnology-based products to consumers.

"Kevin is very sharp," said Stephen Kresovich, vice provost for the life sciences. "He really sees the value of research and how it could benefit people and economies."

McGovern's entrepreneurial experience is something he hopes will help the center. "We wanted to contribute to something that we could be part of," he said.

"We wanted to bring some of the knowledge we've gained and apply that for Cornell. We very much value theoretical science," he added," but we feel it's important to help scientists apply their research for the good of the community and the health of other human beings."

The McGovern Center will help life scientists make that leap via three related objectives: optimizing intellectual property and patent strategies, creating new businesses and venture capital investments, and generating economic growth.

Achieving those objectives requires interdisciplinary expertise. "Our faculty have the science skills," noted Kresovich, "but they don't necessarily know how to write a business plan or make their ideas attractive to investors."

That's where the McGovern Center comes in. Researchers whose startup proposals are selected will engage experienced innovators and alumni, utilize investor and management leads from the Cornell Center for Technology, Enterprise and Commercialization (CCTEC), receive business and marketing guidance from Johnson School faculty and students, and get intellectual property and patent advice from the Cornell Law School. The center adds a critical missing piece: the first lab facility at Cornell dedicated to life science startups.

As Alan Paau, CCTEC director and vice provost for technology transfer and economic development, explained, the facility not only offers top-notch labs, but also eases a startup's cost. "In the life sciences, there are organic solvents, chemicals, radioactive isotopes, biological samples. You need permits and specialized storage and lab equipment. Getting a new product off the ground can be prohibitively expensive for a researcher," he said.

The Weill Hall space has wet labs, offices and conference facilities for six to 10 companies. Initial plans suggest that each company may need one to two years to prove its concept well enough to move out of the center and into an independent location. In that time, McGovern Center staff will help them with business investment and development.

Assembling the staff is the next step. Robert Buhrman, senior vice provost for research, said that Cornell, with the input of the advisory board, hopes to begin interviewing for a director and begin approving startup ventures for entry by the end of the academic year . "We'll be looking for a director with experience in technology transfer, ideally high-tech," he said. "We need a go-getter who can interface well with the inventors as well as with the investors."

Jennifer Campbell is a writer with Alumni Affairs and Development.