Brown and the Innovation Economy Update

January 31, 2019

Dear Executive Committee Colleagues,

We begin the new year with optimism and enthusiasm for advancing our work on the Brown and the Innovation Economy initiative. In appreciation of your interest in and support of the strategic plan, I write to provide an update on progress since its release six months ago.

You may recall that the plan focuses on specific actions for Brown to take to help stimulate innovation and entrepreneurship in the region by developing and retaining talent; engaging industry; building overall capacity; and developing critical networks. Specific recommendations that emerged from our meetings with government, academic, community and industry leaders include investing in local ventures, reforming Brown's Intellectual Property (IP) policies, and partnering with URI and other institutions to create an accelerator and promote biomedical research. The following summary offers a brief update on efforts to date:

RI Innovation Hub (iHub): A cornerstone of Brown's strategy is to enter strategic partnerships that benefit the city, state and region. We’re delighted that as part of the state’s innovation campus bond initiative, CommerceRI awarded a competitive grant of $2.5 million to advance iHub -- a partnership between Brown, URI, IBM’s AlphaZone, and MassChallenge to develop an innovation hub in downtown Providence focused on accelerating local ventures. The funding will support the establishment of a 5,000-square-foot incubator space in the Jewelry District, complementing investments by Brown and other academic and industry partners in the area to promote economic development and advance technology transfer, entrepreneurship and economic innovation. Stakeholders are moving forward to create the legal entity, develop an operating plan, and recruit the iHub director - all with the goal of launching iHub in August 2019.

Recent complementary investments include the collaboration between Brown, URI and Rhode Island College that led to the redevelopment of South Street Landing, and the commitment for Brown’s School of Professional Studies to be an anchor tenant in the Innovation Center developed by Wexford Science & Technology that will also provide space for Johnson & Johnson and the Cambridge Innovation Center.

It is gratifying to see this area of the city evolve rapidly through meaningful public/private partnerships, which will continue to accrue benefits for many years to come.

Brown Biomedical Innovation, Inc. (BBII): Leveraging and expanding life sciences investments is critical to cultivating a more robust innovation ecosystem in Rhode Island -- an idea that was reinforced in a recent report produced by the local BioHub Group. In addition to attracting and supporting talented faculty engaged in critical research, Brown established BBII to help researchers with promising biomedical research projects bridge the gap between the conclusion of sponsored research funding and potential private investment.

The ultimate goal of BBII is to launch new products and companies based on Brown research findings. Over the last year, we have raised an additional $3.6 million to support this work, bringing the total to more than more $8.2 million. We have also recruited a proven leader and experienced biotech entrepreneur to serve as managing director of BBII, welcoming Karen Bullock to the role in August 2018.

BBII recently received its first round of 26 pre-proposals, which includes proposed projects from Brown research teams, Lifespan and Care England. We have established an external investment advisory board with membership from industry and venture capital to assist in the selection of pre-proposals, from which several full proposals will be invited by March. Three to five projects will be chosen to receive funding in May 2019.  

Brown Venture Founders: In fall 2018, we announced the first grant made through the Brown Venture Founders program, which was established through a partnership between the Nelson Center for Entrepreneurship at Brown and the Slater Technology Fund. The program motivates Brown student entrepreneurs to begin and grow their startups in Rhode Island after they graduate, and fosters entrepreneurship in the local economy. We reported that the first founders grant of $50,000 was awarded to 2018 graduate Michelle Petersen ‘18, co-founder of TextUp, a software company that dramatically improves the efficiency and consistency of communications for social workers, non-profits, and other organizations that provide long term care for their clients.

Through the resources of the program, such as dedicated mentorship and co-working space, Michelle was able to move what had been a school project into a sustainable venture.

I'm pleased that as we are fine-tuning the program guided by input from Michelle, a committee met last week to select a second Brown Venture Founder for 2019-2020, which will be announced soon.

Industry Engagement: One of the primary goals in establishing the Office of Industry Engagement and Commercial Venturing at Brown has been active and strategic pursuit of meaningful partnerships with industry, which benefit both corporate and university partners while having positive effects on the local economy. Early milestones include a three-year Master Sponsored Research Agreement between Brown and Hyundai that focuses on the future of mobility. In addition to the potential of Hyundai awarding approximately $500K in funding for research projects during the first year of the agreement, the partnership launched with a Visionary Challenge for Brown students around mobility and robotics. Student teams developed concepts for new technologies and competed for $45,000 in awards.

These multidimensional relationships are vital to our overall strategy, and discussions are underway with several other major corporations interested in establishing strategic research partnerships with Brown, following the Hyundai model. These partnerships are focused around research themes that leverage Brown’s research competencies, including digital health, neuroscience, and human-machine partnership.

Intellectual Property Policies: The final component of Brown’s Innovation Economy strategy is to revise and refine the University’s approach toward intellectual property. While Brown will continue to invest in and develop university IP, we are also making changes so that our policies work better for researchers, potential commercial partners, and the University. The proposed IP policy reforms await formal University approvals, and are expected to be announced later in the semester.

Many members of the Executive Committee have been instrumental in this work, for which I am grateful. I will continue to offer updates as these projects unfold. If you have any questions or would like to discuss any of these advances, feel free to reach out directly to me or to Research Fellow Ben Armstrong at [email protected].



Richard M. Locke