We saw how government, philanthropic institutions and intermediary organisations were all helping entrepreneurship in their own way. They don’t have the same time-frame, objectives, or resources, and as such, their combined and coordinated effort create what we would call a startup ecosystem.
This week in Coursera’s MOOC “Beyond Silicon Valley”, we take a look at how to leverage anchor institutions.
Anchor institutions and spin-offs: the case of Universities and Hospitals
Their primary function is to support increased commercialisation of the product of the startup, help choose between licensing or new company formation, as well as measuring the success of the startup.
Universities and hospitals in the US are a good example of these anchor institutions. In Cleveland, the Case Western Reserve University attracts $4 million each year for research funding. The Cleveland Clinic ranks #1 in the world for cardio-vascular diseases.
Ten years ago, these institutions were quite unable to promote innovation and foster entrepreneurship. They would rather license their products and services to larger corporations rather than fund startups.
For instance, LineStream Technologies, an embedded software company, was “buried in a research lab” for 12 years before a venture capitalist saw the opportunity to create a proper startup. They provided capital, but also mentoring.
It’s actually a business plan competition who attracted the attention of the investors. This new company born out of bigger institution one is usually called a spin-off.
Turning research budgets into a pipeline of new companies
It’s again the Third Frontier program of Ohio state which has been key in nurturing the whole thing. Basically, they helped anchor institutions to transform part of their huge budgets for research into a pipeline of possible new companies, who, in turn, will attract investors and create jobs.
Universities and hospitals also have two assets that make them a fertile ground for startups: intellectual propriety, and highly qualified individuals such as PhDs and technical specialists. But more often than not, they don’t have the expertise to commercialise products, says Steven Girouard, the former VP at Johnson & Johnson Corporate Office of Science and Technology. “They’re great at publishing papers, but not design business models around these research”.
In order to speed up and improve this, the Global Cardiovascular Innovation Center was set up by a grant of $60 million from the Third Frontier program (including the matching scheme for donors and foundations). Half of this amount was dedicated to new technology development and new company development.
CardioInsight is one of the startup who benefited from the program, working in heart failure, caterer and commercial software. What is key in biomedical research is the time needed to the product and its commercialisation. Funding and support can’t be as quick as it happens for web tech startups typically, and it usually takes 3 to 10 years to achieve success.
Interestingly, the technology used by CardioInsight was available – not as a company – for a decade. The company was created by two PhD students. The spin-off made sense as it was both too early for the technology to be adopted by larger medical corporations, and because this commercial potential needed to be checked against reality, and as we said, Cleveland is already strong in the cardiology sector.
In a way, the Third Frontier and GCIC fill the void of early stage funding, which big corporations would not yet do themselves. They have the long view required to make it work.
How to measure the success of such a long term and complex effort? As usual, KPIs include the number of startups launched, jobs created, follow-on capital, and a clear return on investment for early investors.