Innovation Economy Update November 2019

November 18, 2019


Dear Colleagues,

I write to report on the status of the Brown and the Innovation Economy initiative. As a reminder, the plan identifies opportunities for Brown to collaborate with partner institutions to spur innovation and entrepreneurship and contribute to the economic vibrancy of our city and region.

New Leadership
I’m delighted to announce that Karen Sibley, vice president for strategic initiatives, has assumed leadership for the Innovation Economy project. In this role, Karen will shepherd ongoing progress and identify opportunities to create and advance additional efforts. In coordination with colleagues at Brown also focused on this work, Karen will collaborate with key partners in the public, private and nonprofit sectors to drive results.

RI Innovation Hub (riHUB)
The partnership between Brown, URI, Arizona State University, IBM’s Alpha Zone and MassChallenge, which was selected for funding by the State of Rhode Island’s Innovation Campus initiative, has officially launched, and recently welcomed Annette Tonti as executive director. Annette brings more than 30 years of entrepreneurial and corporate experience to this role, including raising over $30M for her own three high-tech startups. She has been a mentor to students at Brown B-Lab, Prime, and URI Sparc, and she is highly adept at connecting startups to universities, accelerators, investors, and global corporations, which is essential to grow the innovation economy here in our region.

This summer, the second cohort of 24 MassChallenge Rhode Island teams arrived at the riHUB space, which is co-located with Cambridge Innovation (CIC) at the new Point 225 Innovation Building on Dyer Street. The four-month accelerator program brought start-up founders together in a focused program to sharpen their business value for potential investors and provided them with co-working space at riHub. The program’s concluding competition, where six finalists from MassChallengeRI presented, resulted in three Gold Award winners: GoTeff ($25K), Legably ($25K), and Intus Care ($50K). We anticipate more promising small businesses to emerge as a result of riHUB opportunities.

As riHUB brings on additional staff, recruits its next MassChallenge cohort and becomes fully operational, an additional Brown-developed entrepreneurship program will join the incubator. CoWorks Foundry will open applications to Rhode Island teams developing projects under the theme “Innovations for Urban Living,” which will provide a curriculum for entrepreneurs seeking to improve the quality of life for residents of city environments in developing countries. Teams will work in riHUB and connect with teams in Bangalore, concluding their work with a residency there for full concept development and potential funding for next stage work. Broad application of these projects in many locations is an eventual goal.

Brown Biomedical Innovation, Inc. (BBII)
In 2018, Brown’s Division of Biology and Medicine, in collaboration with the Office of Industry Engagement and Corporate Ventures, launched a translational commercial development program, BBII. The program provides an accelerator fund dedicated to supporting academic biomedical technologies that have potential for making a substantial impact in healthcare, and to become well-defined product opportunities that are attractive to industry partners and investors. Since my last update, BBII announced five awards of $100,000 each. The funded projects include one device, one diagnostic and three therapeutic projects/products. Collaboration with the New England Medical Innovation Center (NEMIC) is a key component of one of these projects. BBII has also become a member of the Boston Biomedical Innovation Center (B-BIC), which will increase training opportunities and funding available to participating researchers. Three half-day B-BIC workshops are being held in Providence this fall.

The request for proposals for the next BBII funding cycle opened this month, with the goal of selecting up to five more projects to be announced in 2020. An independent panel of advisors participates in project selection and in advising and coaching the work for the awardees. BBII awards are intended to develop and add value to biomedical technologies to increase the probability for licensing and commercialization, which is fundamental for the Innovation Economy project.

The Nelson Center for Entrepreneurship and Brown Venture Founders
The Nelson Center began the academic year in impressive new space that will foster the kind of innovation, collaboration and creativity needed to catalyze discovery and economic growth. 

Since its founding, the Center has sought to provide an array of opportunities for Brown students, faculty and staff to connect with local entrepreneurs, industry leaders, investors and others to foster collaboration and community. Arnell Millhouse, CEO of Career Devs Computer Science University and founder of IntraCity Geeks, a K-12 technology education program, is this year’s Nelson Center “Entrepreneur in Residence.” We’re grateful to Arnell and many other talented local entrepreneurs who devote time and expertise advising and encouraging student entrepreneurial activities.

A steady stream of vibrant programming is central to these efforts, and new this year is the “Young Entrepreneurs of Providence” program. Founded by three Brown undergraduates, the program provides 17 local high school students with weekly workshops, activities and inspiration on the entrepreneurial process and the possibilities it opens for their futures. Examples of additional programming include:

Founder Fridays - Showcasing the entrepreneurial journeys of founders and industry leaders seeking creative, impactful solutions to the world’s most interesting problems.

Startup Studio - Offers education on every aspect of the startup building process.

Funding the Future - A speaker series aiming to shed light on the often opaque world of venture capital and how ideas are funded.

Since my last update, the Venture Founders project, founded in partnership between the Nelson Center and the Slater Fund, made its second award of early stage seed funding to two winners:  Kevin Eve, co-founder of Uproot, a line of plant-based milk products, and Rishabh Singh, founder of Gradly, a guide and referral app for international students attending US colleges and universities. It is noteworthy that the Venture Founders are connected with and benefit from riHUB, and participate in the Innovation Center’s District Hall events that attract local entrepreneurs to help support these early stage projects.

Industry Engagement and Faculty Incentives
A search is underway for the next director of Industry Engagement and Commercial Ventures (IECV) at Brown. The pool is very strong, and we hope to make an appointment very soon. Until then, progress continues as we work to strengthen collaborations with corporate partners.

For example, over the summer, IECV supported the Hyundai Research Collaboration competition for projects on the “future of mobility.” Four Brown labs were awarded $50,000 each to incubate the ideas they proposed to the Hyundai Motor Group (HMG) in the Hyundai Visionary Challenge. This November, the labs will present their visions for smart mobility at the Hyundai Mobility Innovators' Forum in San Francisco. Larger funding awards from Hyundai (up to four at $200,000 each) are planned for release in 2020, and we hope our RI-based teams will be competitive for additional funding to advance their work here in the state.

A key aspect of the Innovation Economy Project is for Brown to cultivate an environment in which faculty are encouraged to engage in research and discovery that leads to potential commercialization. A recent example of our progress in this effort is the $2.1M Sponsored Research Award from a large pharma organization for Professor Stefan Gravenstein’s research on flu vaccine outcome analytics. We look forward to advancing this progress,

Thank you for your continued support of this work, and for any ideas you may have for partnering to enhance our efforts and impact. For additional information about any of these updates, or to propose ideas for opportunities to collaborate, please contact [email protected].


Richard M. Locke