D2P’s Biondi On Getting UW-Madison More for its ($1.2B) R&D Money

[Corrected 12/17/15, 11:34 a.m. See below.] University of Wisconsin-Madison is one of the top-spending schools when it comes to research, but university administrators think its faculty and students could use a boost to turn their ideas into thriving companies.

That’s the mandate for Discovery to Product (D2P), a new campus initiative that aims to hike up the number of annual licensing agreements (currently about 50) and spinout companies (around five) from university research. Madison-area entrepreneur John Biondi was tapped to lead D2P in March. During his career, Biondi has raised almost $60 million for nine startups in sectors like nanotechnology instruments, biotech, medical devices, and software. (Fun fact: he and his wife also run a local apple farm that produces cider and brandy.) Biondi’s strengths are in “early-stage strategy, business, and revenue models, and maximizing market penetration with minimal investment,” the university said at the time of his appointment.

D2P is funded by $3.2 million from the university and the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation (WARF), as well as a two-year, $2.4 million grant from the UW System. In the first year, that grant, dubbed the “Igniter” fund, will allow D2P to provide financial and business support to up to 10 projects with the potential to be licensed or spun into a company between now and June 2015. D2P will also work with approximately 25 other pre-company innovations in the first year that weren’t chosen for Igniter money, Biondi says. [An earlier version of this paragraph incorrectly stated that the source of the Igniter grant was the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. We regret the error.]

I sat down with Biondi to hear his vision for D2P. The following is an edited transcript.

Xconomy: What is D2P and what is it trying to accomplish?

John Biondi: Simply put, D2P is bringing an accelerator model into the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Our goal is to increase the efficiency with which we here at the university commercialize technology. We’re trying to make that process at the top line, taking in the R&D funding that we bring here—which last year I think was $1.2 billion—taking that money and creating intellectual property out of it and then creating licensing arrangements and companies out of that intellectual property. We’re just trying to help with picking up the pace of that a little bit and trying to make that efficient.

X: But aren’t campus entities like WARF’s Accelerator, the Center for Technology Commercialization (CTC), and the UW Institute for Clinical and Translational Research (ICTR) already doing some of those things? How does D2P fit into the picture, and what specific gaps will it fill?

JB: Each of those programs is funding projects of different types and at different stages: Accelerator is strictly WARF IP; ICTR is biopharma; CTC tends to be already incorporated companies and is the source for [Small Business Innovation Research] help. D2P is broader in that it covers any idea coming from the UW-Madison campus. Although Igniter funds can’t go to already incorporated projects, D2P will provide help and money for pre-incorporated projects and then follow through with them into incorporation and commercialization.

Our goal is to bring these projects out to the edge of the university, where at that point they would either have…already engaged with licensing partners and have a high probability of seeing a licensing agreement consummated, or they are definitely ready for incorporation and funding and indeed they have people they are already talking to that potentially could fund them.

Longer term, we are also looking at trying to put together some equity funding for some of these university projects that might have some university connections. For instance, university alums or foundation money that we could put into an angel fund. That’s just in early conversations right now, but I think that’s hopefully a possibility over time.

That would connect with D2P-graduated projects. It would focus on those and look at those in order to provide them with that first round of equity funding on the other side of incorporation.

X: What will D2P’s process look like?

JB: This funding submittal process [for Igniter funds] will be our intake process. That’ll bring to us the projects that we will deal with.

There will be two pools of those projects. The projects that we fund will come immediately into what I’ll call a fast-track or an accelerated pool. We’ll wrap around those projects the typical types of resources that are wrapped around accelerator model companies, these external accelerators like Gener8tor here in Madison. They’ll be heavily mentored; there will be subject matter experts brought in to help them out.

The funding will be handed down on a milestone basis, so there would be a strict management of … Next Page »

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