The Indiana University School of Medicine is the largest in the country, producing more doctors each year than any other American university. IU is also home to an estimated 900 scientist-researchers.
What IU didn’t have, until recently, was a central place in which to anchor a medtech ecosystem and help get innovations from faculty and physicians into the marketplace. So, in 2016, the university’s med school, IU Health, and the Clinical and Translational Sciences Institute (CTSI) came together to create the Indiana Center for Biomedical Innovation (ICBI), a 14,000-square-foot facility with eight labs, offices, conference rooms, co-working space for startups, and state-of-the-art audio/visual equipment.
“It’s a significant investment IU has made,” says Jaipal Singh, the ICBI’s director. “We produce a lot of innovations, but we didn’t have a very good place or system in which to get them to the market and in the hands of patients. We realized we needed to create a center where doctors and researchers could formulate companies.”
The ICBI engaged local representatives from the medtech industry, like pharma giant Eli Lilly (NYSE: LLY) and Roche Diagnostics, to be part of its advisory council, which also includes experts in the legal, regulatory, and financial aspects of developing a biomedical startup. Industry reps will offer perspective on what kinds of needs are unfulfilled and meet with young startups to offer advice.
“Many people say they’ve never seen anything like this before,” Singh says. “A lot of incubators provide bench space, but at our center, entrepreneurs can start a company within days.”
The ICBI also helps medtech startups find funding. Although it doesn’t directly invest in companies in exchange for a percentage of equity the way some incubators do, the ICBI does facilitate access to a number grants through various CTSI programs, makes introductions to angel investors, and assists researchers in applying for federal grants.
Singh says the ICBI has created its own version of the I-Corps program in that it brings in researchers and teaches them to create intellectual property and a business plan. The center is currently home to 13 startups working on a range of innovations, mostly in the therapeutics and medical device sectors; some of the technologies currently being developed include therapeutics for pulmonary diseases, regenerative medicine derived from adult stem cells, and a non-invasive device to detect fight-or-flight nerve signals. Singh says the center’s startups have so far attracted roughly $17 million in funding, primarily from grants.
In addition, the ICBI has a partnership with Stanford University’s Spark translational research program, which Singh described as necessary due to the dearth of Midwest venture capital. “Our companies go out to the West Coast to present their pitches when they start getting more mature,” he adds. Five ICBI startups have so far made the trip.
Once a month, the center also invites faculty to present their ideas to the advisory council, which then helps determine whether those ideas can be turned into companies. Members of industry review proposals and make recommendations based on their development priorities, Singh says. Sometimes, the ICBI will facilitate early funding to get the companies incubator-ready.
In 2018, Singh plans to keep working toward his goal of creating “at least three very successful companies” in the next five years.
“More important is creating an ecosystem where researchers get excited to come in and try their ideas,” he says. “On the coasts, there are very vibrant startup communities—that’s lacking where we are. We’d like to get the younger generation in here and provide the resources they need to start companies.”