Gener8tor, University of Minnesota Tech Transfer Office to Team Up
Gener8tor, a startup accelerator whose programs have taken place exclusively in Wisconsin up to this point, took a key step forward in its expansion into Minnesota this week.
The University of Minnesota’s technology transfer arm, known as the Office for Technology Commercialization (OTC), says it has formed a partnership with Gener8tor in an effort aimed at spinning startup companies out of research conducted at the school.
Mark McGuire, managing director of Gener8tor’s Minnesota programs, will serve as entrepreneur-in-residence at the Venture Center, a wing of the OTC that’s focused on startups, according to a news release. He will also be an executive at the Discovery Capital Investment Program, which is part of the Venture Center.
In 2015, Discovery Capital invested a combined $1.1 million across three early-stage companies, which also collectively received $9 million in outside financing, the Minnesota StarTribune reported. One of McGuire’s responsibilities will be raising private funding to supplement the investments Discovery Capital makes in university startups, he says.
Jay Schrankler, who directs the OTC, says that Discovery Capital could invest in more or less than three startups each year. It also maintains a “pipeline” of ideas that could be turned into companies, he says, and there are about 30 ideas in the pipeline at any given time.
As ideas move through the pipeline, some of them get incorporated as businesses, Schrankler says. “There ends up being an entrepreneur-in-residence that starts working with them, and then they eventually get funding.”
The structure has been in place since 2014, when a plan to create a $50 million venture fund affiliated with the university that would have invested in companies across the country was scrapped, Schrankler says.
In June, Gener8tor announced it was planning to open a Minnesota office and run programs there.
McGuire, of Gener8tor, says that the agreement will enable the accelerator “to be more of an insider with the University of Minnesota… and identify the most promising startups as early as possible.”
Gener8tor plans to enroll its first class of Minnesota startups in mid-October, McGuire says. They will participate in a program known as gBETA, a six-week, equity-free accelerator for early-stage companies. McGuire says that gBETA participants are not required to be businesses that have already incorporated, though many are.
Participants in the first gBETA Minnesota program do not necessarily need to be affiliated with a college or university in the state, McGuire says. That has been the case with the five classes that have graduated from gBETA Wisconsin. McGuire says the only requirement is that the startup has “Minnesota roots,” meaning one or more of its founders live there.
“We definitely want to have the higher education tie-in” eventually, McGuire says. “With our gBETA program, we really view the colleges and universities—in particular tier-one institutions like the University of Minnesota—as an untapped resource of discoveries and research and entrepreneurial talent that we think can be turned into startups.”
“But I also want to be slightly broader here in Minnesota. Some of this is a way for us to experiment with a model, and continue to learn and refine. We like to take our own medicine. We often preach, ‘Test, iterate, and learn.’ This is a way we can continue to do that in our own programming as well,” he says.
Gener8tor in November announced it had partnered with the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation (WARF), which manages intellectual property for the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Schrankler, who is a graduate of UW-Madison and says his office is “very close” with WARF, says the two groups are “almost identical” in the things they do day-to-day, like working with researchers to apply for patents. But unlike WARF, which is a distinct entity from UW-Madison, the OTC is housed within the University of Minnesota and does not hold its own endowment, he says.
Two of the most well-known businesses that were spun out of research performed at the University of Minnesota are the medical devices giant Medtronic (NYSE: MDT) and Net Perceptions, Schrankler says. The latter company was part of the boom-and-bust cycle of the late 1990s and early 2000s; most of the remnants of Net Perceptions were integrated into Amazon’s (NASDAQ: AMZN) recommendation engine, he says.
A more recent success story spawned from research at the university is MiroMatrix Medical, Schrankler says, which is in the regenerative medicine industry.
Gener8tor plans to hold its first 12-week core program in Minnesota in the first half of 2017, McGuire says. With that version of the accelerator, Gener8tor invests in participating startups, and takes an equity stake in them.