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Boston alumni support SU engines of discovery

Doyle LabSyracuse University chemistry professor Robert Doyle and his team are researching ways to attach drugs and other therapeutic agents to B-complex vitamins, which may result in new treatments for diabetes, ovarian cancer, and obesity. SU biomedical and chemical engineering professors Patrick Mather and Dacheng Ren are battling virulent infections that claim lives and cost billions of dollars with a new hydrogel web composed of nanosized polymeric fibers and a silver compound, created through collaborative work at the University’s Syracuse Biomaterials Institute.

Traditionally, research universities have used public monies to push the frontiers of science, while corporations did applied research and product development. That scenario is changing, with society now viewing research universities as innovation engines, coming up with marketable concepts—such as the work being done by the SU scientists—and creating high-value, high-tech jobs.

To meet these expectations, SU has established two funding vehicles—the SU Seed Program and the SU Early Stage Fund. The SU Seed Program is a pool of $5 million of SU money for competitive grants to university researchers. It funds the refinement of technology across the gap between government funding and commercialization. The SU Early Stage Fund is a limited partnership with $20 million invested by SU alumni, providing the venture capital needed to launch university spinout companies with commercially attractive technology emerging from the Seed Program.

Two Boston-area alumni have been instrumental in supporting the goals of the University in the creation of the funds—SU Trustee Darlene T. DeRemer ’77, G’79; and David L. Marcus ’70.

“One of the problems with early stage companies is they get squeezed in what is known as ‘the valley of death,’” says DeRemer, a managing partner at Grail Partners LLC. “It’s difficult for faculty to go out and raise the funding on their own. It certainly can be done, but it’s very time consuming.”

For scientists, it’s time better spent in the laboratory, but the need to find funding eats into those precious hours. “There’s a hurdle to taking these ideas from concept to a commercial, working prototype,” says Marcus, managing director of Life Sciences with VIMAC Ventures. “Seed funds are designed to invest small amounts of money—$50,000, $100,000—to get a scientific concept to a point where commercial interests like ourselves are willing to invest in taking the idea forward. If there are amazing innovations on campus that would benefit society, we have a responsibility to get those innovations out into the marketplace.”

For more information about the Syracuse University Seed Program and Early Stage Fund, call 315.443.3567 or 315.443.6444.