Gift backs efforts to commercialize research projects

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The bridge taking Cornell’s budding inventors and entrepreneurs from the lab to the boardroom just got a whole lot sturdier, thanks to a gift from venture capital firm Kairos Ventures.

The Los Angeles-based firm, which invests in and supports early stage technologies and discoveries from top universities, has made a commitment of $500,000 to the Cornell Technology Acceleration and Maturation (CTAM) Fund as part of its partnership with Cornell for venture creation and technology incubation.

As a result of Kairos’ gift, CTAM will increase its funding cap for commercially promising projects from $50,000 to $100,000. The increased funding will enable broader participation on campus, said Bob Buhrman, senior vice provost for research and vice president for technology transfer, intellectual property and research policy.

“The projects that CTAM has supported have been quite successful,” Buhrman said. “Therefore, I am very grateful for this forward-looking donation from Kairos that will replenish the CTAM fund and enable us to increase the size of the individual awards. Cornell has an impressive and broad array of exciting technologies, and this donation will enable us to accelerate more of these into successful ventures.”

“The gift to CTAM is part of the partnership with Cornell to support and invest in the incubation of university technologies and startup companies,” said Jim Demetriades, founder and managing partner of Kairos. “It will provide timely and critical funding to bridge the translation gap and mature technologies for commercialization and venture creation. We are excited about working closely with the university to help these technologies realize success.”

Since its inception in 2014, CTAM’s strategic objective has been to accelerate growth of technologies identified as having the potential to benefit society. CTAM’s objective is to address “invest-ability” gaps that deter significant investment, strategic partnership or acquisition.

Initial funding for CTAM – which supports prototype development, beta-testing of products, data analysis and market research, among other activities – was provided by the Office of the Vice Provost for Research. Ongoing support comes from donations and participating colleges.

“I am thrilled to see the growth of CTAM to support promising inventions and help create more commercial opportunities,” said Alice Li, executive director of Cornell’s Center for Technology Licensing.

The fund is designed to provide timely and critical funding to Cornell faculty and researchers working on projects at the core of the world’s most pressing medical, engineering and technology challenges, which have the potential of rapid and impactful innovation. To date, CTAM has funded eight projects, seven of which have been completed, involving researchers and startups from Cornell’s Ithaca, Geneva and New York City campuses.

The majority of those have led to investments, the formation of startup companies or sponsored research projects and commercial partnerships.

One such project came from the lab of Minglin Ma, assistant professor in the Department of Biological and Environmental Engineering. CTAM funding in 2015 helped Ma – whose work involves improving treatment of Type 1 diabetes – secure a sponsored research project and partnership with a major multinational pharmaceutical company in pre-clinical and clinical development.

Another form of CTAM support is the convertible note – a short-term loan that can be paid back with interest or converted into equity in the company. Such was the case with ArcScan, a Weill Cornell Medicine-affiliated ophthalmic diagnostics maker. ArcScan is a client of the Kevin M. McGovern Family Center for Venture Development in the Life Sciences, which helped the company with business development and fundraising.

Ninety days after receiving a small CTAM convertible note, which allowed it to conduct market research among key opinion leaders in refractive surgery, the company received more than $3 million in investments, was effectively relaunched, paid back its note and graduated from the McGovern Center.

“The experience of ArcScan shows that TCAM can be a bridge to success for a company,” said Lou Walcer, director of the McGovern Center. “ArcScan is now a productive Cornell technology licensee and is supplying a device that will save the eyesight of thousands of patients around the world.”

To apply for funding, visit the Cornell Technology Licensing website and click on the “For Inventors” link.


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