IU fuels startups with new program to help faculty, staff with business ideas

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Indiana University has launched a support program for all its campuses that school officials hope will lead to an onslaught of startups coming out of the school.

The Quarry was beta tested in August, and already 40 IU faculty and staffers have taken part. Last month, the program rolled out full force.

“This is answering a big need, and it’s an interesting need,” said Jason Whitney, manager of strategic partnerships at the IU Research and Technology Corp. and manager of The Quarry. “These people are top experts in something other than setting up and running a business. That’s where we offer support.”

IU faculty and staffers are coming to The Quarry from various departments in the school, Whitney said, including nursing, hospitality, business, biology, medicine and chemistry/drug development. “We’re not putting all our eggs in the Kelly School [of Business] basket,” he said.

The Quarry essentially replaces Spin-Up, which after a six-year run ceased operations last July, after its leader left IU.

“While evaluating the prior programming, we identified consistent needs related to developing the business case, identifying potential funding sources and recruiting long-term executive talent,” Whitney said. “The Quarry will focus on providing resources in those three key areas in addition to new opportunities in the future to eliminate pain points for IU entrepreneurs.”

Whitney said there’s a big difference between The Quarry and Spin-Up.

“Spin-Up played more of a hands-on managerial role," he said.

The result, Whitney told IBJ, was that "we had a group of entrepreneurs who had never been taught to fish. We want to help teach people how to run their company rather than doing it for them. That’s not sustainable or scalable. We want to set up foundations for businesses rather than just run businesses”

That doesn’t mean the new program isn’t hands-on.

“The Quarry will offer assistance in writing [Small Business Innovation Research] grants and making pitches to venture capitalists,” Whitney said. “We are members of Midwest Executives-on-Roster, which connects high-tech startups with experienced leaders. We will also look to help MBAs graduating from the Kelley School of Business network with startups that seek quality leadership talent.”

The Quarry will leverage university assets, including the IU Philanthropic Venture Fund and the Innovate Indiana Fund, to assist entrepreneurs. It will also identify mentors, commercialization partners and customers at partner sites like Dimension Mill in Bloomington, the IoT Lab in Fishers, Union 525 in Indianapolis and WestGate@Crane Technology Park in Odon.

The Quarry will work with Launch Indy in Indianapolis and is planning to hold its first event there within the next month, Whitney said. “This is replicable at all our regional campuses,” he added. 

There’s no real obligation to be a part of The Quarry, Whitney said. Entrepreneurs "don’t have to give up equity in business. It’s a freemium model.” 

The Quarry will connect with prospective IU entrepreneurs through the IU Innovation and Commercialization Office, which protects, markets and licenses intellectual property developed at IU.

“A major emphasis of The Quarry is evaluating the foundation of the prospective businesses. We want to ensure that launching a startup company is the best path to commercialization for the intellectual property,” Whitney said. “Working closely with our colleagues in the IU ICO helps identify outside licensing partners when appropriate. This may fast-track the product to market and allow our faculty members to continue doing more innovative research.”

Whitney said the launch of The Quarry ties in with the university's Bicentennial Strategic Plan. 

“By providing support and assistance for innovative entrepreneurs, The Quarry provides for the commercialization of innovative research that impacts not only Indiana, but the world,” Whitney said.

There is a rash of colleges nationally—and within Indiana—that are keen to help their school’s give rise to startups. Purdue University—under president Mitch Daniels—has made a big push in this area, as has Notre Dame with its IDEA Center.

IU President Michael McRobbie “has made this a big focus,” Whitney said.

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