IU preps new VC fund amid agency revamp

June 30, 2017

Indiana University wants to do a better job helping startups affiliated with its community access capital, talent and office space. So it's revamping a 20-year-old agency and gearing up to launch a new venture capital fund.

Earlier this week, IU announced that it is reorganizing its Indiana University Research and Technology Corp., a not-for-profit organization responsible for helping its faculty and researchers trademark and commercialize their discoveries. The revamp will result in a smaller staff focused on aiding the most promising ideas and upstarts.

The new IURTC, as it's called, will also feature a venture capital fund similar to the school's existing Innovate Indiana Fund, which is nearing full deployment. Bill Stephan, vice president for engagement at Indiana University, declined to discuss specifics of the new fund before it's officially unveiled later this summer—although he said it will be larger than Innovate Indiana's $10 million at launch and suggested it will be a pillar of IURTC's mission moving forward.

"It's one of the things that has really led to how we're thinking about the reorganization of the IURTC," Stephan said. "This new fund is kind of central to it."

The IURTC was established in 1997 as the Advanced Research and Technology Institute to handle the university's intellectual property, trademarks and business development activities. It has about 22 staff members who help researchers navigate the business world.

For example, the IURTC might get involved early with chemistry professors and grad students working on a project related to therapeutic drugs to help them handle issues related to invention disclosure, patent protection, licensing and more.

Under the reorganization, these duties—and up to 10 IURTC staff members—will shift to IU's Office of the Vice President for Research, which is already involved in monitoring research-related grants. The idea is to have the research office assist with administrative tasks around discoveries and innovation at the earliest stages, Stephan said, while IURTC concentrates its efforts on providing resources to help the most-promising startup ideas take root. 

"This frees up the IURTC staff to really focus more on, 'OK, now that we've got these innovations that have some market potential, let's really get focused on how we can bring capital to bear to help support them, find managerial talent, [and] figure out where we want to locate them in terms of the space that they need,'" Stephan said.

Officials decided to create the forthcoming IURTC fund, Stephan said, because the $10 million Innovate Indiana Fund is entering harvest mode, the stage that denotes waiting for past investments to generate cash returns. 

The fund invests in companies affiliated with IU students, staff and alumni and has poured money in firms such as North Carolina-based PrecisionHawk, which has more than 150 employees, and Indianapolis-based Haven, which is no longer in operation. The fund was created in 2009 from the proceeds of Blackboard's $100 million acquisition of Angel Learning, in which Indiana University held a roughly 25 percent stake.

"This is going to be a little different," Stephan said comparing the Innovate Indiana Fund to the new fund. "I can't go into great detail, but the common element is that it's really designed to help that early-stage funding for fledgling-but-promising startups."

Stephan said IURTC will aim to boost the office-space help it can provide through partnerships with organizations such as Union 525, Launch Fishers and 16 Tech. He also said IURTC will tap into its alumni network to help companies find talent and mentors that can be immensely valuable at the early stage. 

"We're pretty excited about the new IURTC with a sharper focus being able to work in these areas," Stephan said, "and partner with the vice president for research and his staff who'll work on the earlier-end requirements to help get some of these initiatives launched."


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