Sometimes an extra bit of lab work or prototyping can make all the difference to the creation of the next breakthrough technology that improves our world. A Princeton initiative now celebrating its 10th anniversary has funded the research behind 22 startup companies that are developing Princeton discoveries into beneficial technologies and services.
The Intellectual Property (IP) Accelerator Fund provides support to researchers who have made a discovery but need to conduct extra studies to demonstrate that the discovery can meet a societal need. Such studies drive the research forward and can be essential for attracting outside investment and funding from government small-business programs.
“These awards have a multiplier effect on the impact of Princeton discoveries in addressing major challenges in healthcare, information technology, energy and the environment, and more,” said John Ritter, director of the Office of Technology Licensing, which administers the fund. “The small size and innovative culture of startup companies are ideal for propelling the rapid development of university-led research into new products and services.”
Through the IP Accelerator Fund, Princeton researchers can receive up to $100,000 for prototyping, experiments and other efforts that advance the state of the technology and demonstrate the value of a discovery. The research performed under these grants can provide additional assurance to potential startup investors and companies that the technology is capable of being developed into a product or service.
Startup companies play an essential role in transitioning technologies from university laboratories and into broader societal use. University research primarily focuses on new discoveries, whereas startups and other companies are equipped to optimize the design, enhance the usability, and scale the production of new technologies to meet consumer and industry demand. Startups also create jobs and stimulate the economy.
Startups that develop University technologies are independent companies funded by a mix of investors and U.S.-federal and state government small business grants. Since 2020, startups based on Princeton discoveries have raised over $550 million from investors, a number that Princeton’s Office of Technology Licensing expects will grow in the coming years. All of this funding goes into the growth and development of the fledgling companies.
The startups based on funded projects have gone on to be highly successful at attracting U.S. government grants that support development of university-led discoveries into new technologies for public benefit.
One of the funded projects aims to design broad-spectrum antiviral treatments that engage the body’s natural defenses against infection. The startup company Evrys Bio is building new types of anti-infective agents based on research funded by the IP Accelerator Fund and conducted by Princeton’s Thomas Shenk, the James A. Elkins Jr. Professor in the Life Sciences, emeritus, and professor of molecular biology, emeritus; and Ileana Cristea, the Henry L. Hillman Professor of Molecular Biology.
Lillian Chiang, president and CEO of Evrys Bio, said the IP Accelerator Fund was pivotal to the launch of startups such as Evrys Bio.
“The IP Accelerator award was important because with those funds, the innovators at Princeton did their first chemical screen, and they found small molecules that had the properties predicted by their research,” said Chiang. “For myself as an entrepreneur, I wouldn't have started a company without that, because that's the real product.”
With this foundation in place, the Pennsylvania-based firm went on to receive U.S. government support in the form of highly competitive Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) funding. The company has received $47 million in government funding for small business development, as well as about $12.5 million from angel investors.
“The work resulting from the IP Accelerator Fund definitely helped convince me that it was worth the effort to leave my previous job and think about what the business plan would look like for this company,” Chiang said.
Another project supported by the fund aims to improve the recycling of lithium-ion batteries from automobiles and electronics. The research, led by Bruce Koel, professor of chemical and biological engineering, and Chao Yan, postdoctoral research associate in mechanical and aerospace engineering, led to the launch of Princeton NuEnergy, a clean-tech company based in Bordentown, New Jersey.
Last month, Princeton NuEnergy opened their first lithium-ion battery direct recycling facility in McKinney, Texas. The pilot plant uses a patented low-temperature plasma-assisted process and has the capacity to process up to 500 tons per year of dead batteries to be recycled in exchange for pristine cathode materials for new batteries.
Andluca Technologies is a startup working to develop energy-saving windows based on research conducted at Princeton on transparent coatings that harvest and convert UV light into power. Through the IP Accelerator Fund, Princeton researchers conducted studies to establish the technology’s potential for use in energy-efficient devices. The team went on to receive over $4 million in government funding and private investment.
The technology stems from discoveries made in the laboratory of Yueh-Lin (Lynn) Loo, the Theodora D. ’78 & William H. Walton III ’74 Professor in Engineering and professor of chemical and biological engineering. Loo’s co-inventors Nicholas Davy and Melda Sezen-Edmonds were graduate students in Loo’s lab. Davy, who serves as CEO, said that early support from the University was critical for successfully translating research beyond the lab.
Andluca Technologies now spans three offices, with manufacturing facilities across the country. The company is developing a wide range of UV-solar-powered products, such as wireless smart glass. Installed in place of a standard window or façade, smart glass can reduce the carbon footprint of buildings.
“I think entrepreneurship is becoming more and more important for researchers at all levels.” said Anthony Williams, associate director in the Office of Technology Licensing at Princeton University. “Through this process, Princeton ideas turn into products and services that have a real impact, and benefit society in a meaningful way.”