To help launch companies around university research results, GRA launched its lead commercialization program, VentureLab, in 2002.
The goals of Venture Lab are to:
1. move university technologies out of the lab and into the marketplace
2. grow university-based start-up companies in Georgia to create a vibrant industrial base with high-value jobs.
To accomplish these goals, GRA awards grants and loans to research enterprises in their earliest stages:
- Phase I grants (up to $50,000) to the university help researchers answer the question, “Is it commercially feasible to build a company around this technology?” University researchers use these grants to evaluate the benefits and risks of a discovery.
- Phase II grants (up to $100,000) to the university enable researchers to continue prototype development and formulate a company. Phase II projects must have matching funds to validate the technology in the marketplace.
- Phase III loans (up to $250,000) are made to eligible VentureLab companies that have a fully executed license from the university. These companies must also have Georgia-based management. The non-collateralized loan has favorable repayment terms and conditions.
A 2001 survey of selected communications and computing labs at Georgia Tech found that faculty are sometimes unaware of the commercial potential of their own discoveries. In launching VentureLab, GRA partnered with Georgia Tech’s technology incubator, the Advanced Technology Development Center (ATDC).
GRA and ATDC tagged 120 technologies at Georgia Tech for further evaluation and explored the most promising of those technologies. As a result, three new companies were formed.
The 2002 pilot was expanded to the University of Georgia, Georgia State University, the Georgia Health Services University and Emory University.
From 2002 to 2010, GRA directed some $19 million of state funding into VentureLab. Here’s a snapshot of activity during that period:
- 700+ university inventions or discoveries have been evaluated for commercial potential.
- 107+ active companies have been formed, which employ more than 650 Georgians.
- These companies have also attracted $460 million in equity investment and generated $77 million in revenue.
To be considered for funding, a project must originate at one of the GRA member universities listed above. Each participating university has a VentureLab director on staff to coordinate submission of grant applications.
Outside investors and entrepreneurs serve as external advisors, scrutinizing every VentureLab investment at the end of Phase I and Phase II projects.
These advisors assess each project’s commercial potential and progress toward goals. The advisory team makes recommendations on continued funding, changes in project direction, and termination of some project funding. The external advisors advise GRA regarding all investment decisions associated with Phase III loans. As of 2008, 22 VentureLab companies had received Phase III loans.
GRA also recruits seasoned managers to serve as coaches or “launch CEOs” to work with university researchers. These managers, called VentureLab Fellows, are either selected by faculty founders or choose to pursue the opportunity on their own.
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