U looks to help startup firms

Officials want to provide facilities for companies that would license U inventions.

Molly Moker

The University’s Board of Regents is looking to give a nonprofit group $1 million to help get the institution’s inventions to the market faster.

The regents will decide in May whether to invest $1 million in University Enterprise Laboratories, an organization that helps small startup companies get off the ground, said David Hamilton, interim vice president for research.

The money would help pay for a warehouse located in St. Paul’s Midway district that would house emerging companies. The University would license some of its inventions to the companies.

Startup companies work to develop and commercialize University inventions before they are released to the market.

The $1 million would come from royalty income that University inventions have already made, Hamilton said. The regents passed a policy last month allowing the use of royalty income outside the University as long as it contributes to the institution.

University officials said there is a lack of startup organizations near campus. But providing financial support can create facilities, which would in turn help commercialize University inventions.

The regents also passed a policy stating financial support for startup companies can only come from licensing revenue, not state funding or tuition dollars, Hamilton said.

Robert Elde, dean of the College of Biological Sciences, said additional space near campus might make more companies interested in working on

University inventions, increasing the institution’s revenue stream.

In 2002-03, the University generated $38.7 million in licensing revenues, Hamilton said. Currently, this money is used to support research, graduate fellowships, University library donations and various other projects, he said.

Elde said the building for University Enterprise Laboratories has space for approximately 22 companies. Already, 15 to 17 companies have expressed interest in obtaining space, and most are University related, he said.

Hamilton said investing in a near-campus laboratory would help University inventions.

“Anytime we can aid companies we license intellectual property to be more successful, the better it is for us,” Hamilton said.

The University does not have space for startup companies outside of the University, Elde said.

He said the University is one of the last major institutions in the country that does not have a facility for startup companies.

Without such space, Elde said, he will lose potential faculty members to other universities. He also said he has had a difficult time recruiting faculty to the campus without the lab space.

Elde said students will benefit from the space.

“This will help create a biotechnology industry so students can graduate from the University and get a job here in Minnesota,” Elde said. “Currently, we are not much of a biotechnology community and many students end up having to go to Boston or California.”

University Provost Christine Maziar said the startup companies that currently lease space on campus would be able to move to the building.

This would give University professors and researchers more campus space, she said.

Maziar said because the University would take an active role in funding the laboratory, tenants would be placed there that are University-related, but the lab would not be restricted to University tenants.

The University will be one of 10 contributors investing in the space. Maziar said funding for the building will also come from the city of St. Paul, Xcel Energy, 3M and Medtronic.

Maziar said the University has been looking to invest in the space for six years.

“We expect the relationships we enter into, (like University Enterprise Laboratories), will help us be more successful in creating technology and spinning off new research,” Maziar said.