VCUProgram to ‘fast-track’ emerging companies reflects how innovation and entrepreneurship are growing as VCU sets funding records.

After years of supporting startups that license inventions created by university researchers, Virginia Commonwealth University’s Office of the Vice President for Research and Innovation has launched its first formal Startup Accelerator program.

“Our accelerator will fast-track our VCU-borne companies, giving them more personalized coaching and advisory services from our lineup of entrepreneur experts-in-residence,” said P. Srirama Rao, Ph.D., vice president for research and innovation. “Innovation is taking place at a rapid pace at VCU, and this program will further raise our national visibility and continue to position Central Virginia as a key American technological hub.”

VCU is the 47th-ranked public research university in the U.S., as reported by the National Science Foundation. VCU’s $406.9 million in research expenditures for 2022 represents a 12% increase over the year prior, when the university reached the $400 million expenditure mark for the first time. The university’s sponsored research funding for fiscal year 2023 was $464 million, representing a 71% increase over the past five years.

For VCU faculty researchers, the accelerator is designed to put startups on formal timelines and hit targeted goals. The program includes meetings with advisors and entrepreneurs-in-residence, development of a customized business strategy and help with applications for funding. It culminates with a springtime pitch event that will award cash prizes and additional support to winners.

The accelerator is led by the VCU TechTransfer and Ventures team, which is responsible for protecting university-generated intellectual property and facilitating its commercialization. Last year, TechTransfer and Ventures issued 26 patents, filed 165 new patents, executed 29 licenses and brought in $3 million in licensing revenue. It also granted 12 licenses to startups.

TechTransfer has been responsible for supporting formation and development of startups based on VCU-owned IP since August 2021. Since that time, the office has established a program providing startups with coaching, entrepreneur-in-residence support and expert advisory support from the office’s licensing managers.

“Now is a perfect time to launch our accelerator program to help researchers to get their ideas out of the lab and into the hands of users, address their highest-priority business needs, reduce the risk of failure and increase the probability of success,” said Ivelina Metcheva, Ph.D., assistant vice president for innovation at TechTransfer and Ventures. The program also benefits researchers by connecting them to outside resources such as investors and consultants, she said.

TechTransfer expects to offer a spring and fall accelerator program, with hopes that it will encourage other faculty who may have startup dreams to take the next step — even if they’re unsure about the process.

“Faculty researchers may be experts in their field of study, and they want to take their ideas forward but are unfamiliar with how to do so,” Rao said. “The VCU Startup Accelerator gives proper mentoring to our research community and surrounds them with entrepreneurs who have walked this path before, to help overcome those challenges and put them on a path to success.”

One of the accelerator collaborators is Activation Capital, an independent authority of the state of Virginia that is promoting scientific research, commercialization and ecosystem development in the Richmond region. Chandra Briggman, Activation Capital’s president and CEO, said the organization will provide program support and back the researcher-entrepreneurs with resources they need.

“Our plan is to create a continuum of support for VCU researchers so that we can have a platform for moving things from idea to market,” she said.

Briggman noted that VCU is designated as an “R1” institution, in recognition of its high research activity, by the Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education. “VCU is a research powerhouse, and growing. The top of the funnel for research and innovation is what’s happening at research universities. By supporting VCU research, we support the entire region,” Briggman said.

The pilot VCU Startup Accelerator cohort includes the following five groups — some established companies, and others with projects on track to create a formal business.

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