The Innovation Fund is a $20 million fund that invests in proof-of-concept and early business development work for viable new startups created by faculty and students. The funds have been donated by alumni, and all proceeds from successful exits will be invested back into the Innovation Fund to ensure it is an evergreen, permanent feature of the University’s entrepreneurial ecosystem.
The primary objective of the Innovation Fund is to reduce friction to the capital and commercial markets for early stage technologies and ventures arising from University IP and ideas. This high-risk, early-stage capital is not available in the market since the technology has progressed beyond basic science and research grant funding but is too early in development to attract corporate or venture capital. In addition to funding, applicants receive support for their venture before and after apply for the fund through the University’s extensive resources at the Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation.
To date, the Fund has invested $5.6 million in 53 startups, with each funding cycle bringing ever more advanced projects from an even wider group of researchers. Funding cycles are held twice a year, starting with a broad call for applications and then quickly whittled down to the top 5 most promising projects for a deeper due diligence by an experienced Steering Committee and external, expert Advisory Committee. To learn more about applying, fill out the online form or contact Jason Pariso at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Take a look at a few examples of the impactful companies that are supported through the Innovation Fund are below. View all Innovation Fund projects by year (PDF).
- Array of Things, an urban sensing project of sensor nodes launched by The Urban Center for Computation and Data (UrbanCCD) and lead by Charlie Catlett of the Computation Institute received $150,000 from the Innovation Fund in 2015 and an additional $150,000 in matching funds from Argonne National Laboratory. The urban environment, infrastructure, and activity data collected by the network will be openly available and adaptable to local policies and needs, enabling researchers, residents, software developers, and governments to collaborate and make cities more livable, healthy, and efficient. They have also received a $3.1 million grant from the National Science Foundation and plan to install sensors around Chicago in July.
- ExplORer Surgical Information System, a workflow management tool used in the operating room to enhance team communication, awareness, and efficiency, producing cost savings and improving surgical outcomes, received $64,300 from the Innovation Fund in 2014. The team is lead by Alexander Langerman, assistant professor of surgery and Marko Rojnica, resident in general surgery. The investment was to enhance the prototype of their real-time surgical workflow software, which is designed to make teams in the operating room safer and more efficient. ExplORer is the first product to focus on the operative steps and team tasks while adapting to surgeon preference and patient factors. ExplORer is currently piloting at two large hospital systems in the Midwest.
- Prescript IQ, formerly Genomic Prescribing System (GPS) creates a database of how patients with particular genetic profiles react to specific drugs, and directs that information to a secure online portal for enrolled physicians to use and compare against. They received $100,000 from the Innovation Fund in 2014. The team is led by Mark Ratain, professor of medicine, Peter O’Donnell, assistant professor of medicine, Keith Danahey, programmer, and Ken Bradley, business lead and venture partner at ARCH Venture Partners. The investment was to enable the development of a more robust tool and to validate the system outside of the University of Chicago. They incorporated in 2016 and begin piloting with concierge medicine and executive health programs, two of which are within large academic health centers, later this year.
- Sokowatch, founded by Daniel Yu, a University of Chicago undergraduate student, in 2013 to help non-profit organizations track inventory in developing countries. They received $100,000 from the Innovation Fund in 2013. Yu and his team built a cloud-based system to effectively manage supply chains and give organizations the ability to track and analyze data in real-time anywhere in the world using basic mobile phones prevalent in these areas. In 2013, Sokowatch won second place in the John Edwardson, ’72, Social New Venture Challenge, a track of the university’s business launch program the Edward L. Kaplan, ’71, New Venture Challenge. The UChicago Innovation Fund recognized the startup's significant recent growth and progress while incubating at the CIE and selected Sokowatch as the first team to receive an off-cycle investment from the fund. They have also raised an additional $600,000 from other sources and graduated from CIE’s incubator program this year, expanding their team to 15 employees.