The fourth annual Yale Innovation Summit on May 10 presented by the Office of Cooperative Research (OCR) and the Yale Entrepreneurial Institute provided a window into an expanding entrepreneurial ecosystem at Yale, particularly around biotech and tech discoveries.
entrepreneurship on the rise
Interest in entrepreneurship from both faculty and student populations is on the rise, new technologies and discoveries are happening across campus, and the world outside Yale’s walls is taking notice. Nearly 600 were in attendance—including representatives from over 35 venture capital firms—and there was real energy and enthusiasm throughout the day’s panels, keynotes, pitch contests and outdoor poster session.
“The Yale Innovation Summit has quickly become a capstone event,” says Jon Soderstrom, Managing Director of OCR, “and it’s drawing attention inside and outside Yale—both for the number of transformative breakthroughs in progress at Yale and the impressive rise in startup success stories.”
The event came just days after the co-founders of one Yale-born biotech company, Biohaven Pharmaceuticals, rang the bell at the New York Stock Exchange and raised $168M in an IPO. Biohaven, one of the Innovation Summit’s sponsors, is developing drugs for neurological diseases and rare disorders. There are now many faculty eager to follow in their footsteps.
These include the 17 finalists of the Blavatnik Fund for Innovation at Yale—a new $10M gift from the Blavatnik Family Foundation that is bridging the gap between breakthrough life science discoveries and high-impact products.
“There’s funding from the National Institutes of Health and others that supports a lot of the discoveries,” says Stephen Strittmatter, Vincent Coates Professor of Neurology and Professor of Neuroscience and Director of the Yale Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center.
“When it actually gets to a drug and it’s ready to be tested in people and profits are about to be made, companies come in. But there’s this gap in between making discoveries and making dollars.”
Strittmatter is developing select inhibitors to slow, halt, or reverse the course of Alzheimer’s disease and was one of four faculty who won a $300,000 Development Grant from the Blavatnik Fund at the event. In addition, four faculty were awarded $100,000 Pilot Grants to move their research along the path to commercialization.
“I have a particular interest in encouraging scientific innovation,” says Len Blavatnik, Founder and Chairman of Access Industries, which supported the Fund, “and Yale is obviously a perfect base for finding new ways to invest in the future of research and entrepreneurship.”
Biotech and Tech Pitch Contest winners
Yale President Peter Salovey announced the winners of both the Blavatnik Awards and the event’s Biotech and Tech Pitch Contests, saying “Yale is breaking down barriers to discovery and innovation.”
Alanna Schepartz, Milton Harris ‘29 Ph.D. Professor of Chemistry & Professor of Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology, won both a $300,000 Blavatnik Development Grant and took first place in the Biotech Pitch Contest at the Summit, winning a $5,000 prize supported by Elm Street Ventures. Schepartz presented a promising technology called Exolva that would allow protein materials into the cytosol and nucleus to deliver personalized therapeutics. She’s been developing the technology for the past decade.
Winning the $5,000 first place award from Connecticut Innovations in the Tech Pitch Contest was Alva Health, a startup that is developing a wearable monitor for early stroke detection. The team combines the talents of Kevin Sheth, MD, Associate Professor of Neurology and Neurosurgery; Sandra Saldana Ortega, PhD (SOM ’17); Hitten Zaveri, PhD, Associate Professor in Neurology; and Ronald Coifman, PhD, Philips Professor of Math and Computer Science.