Innovation Fund invests $500,000 in microbiome research and energy companies

The University of Chicago Innovation Fund announced plans to invest up to $500,000 into three companies—AVNovum, ClostraBio, and SwitchedSource—that are working in the health and energy fields, respectively. These latest investments bring the Innovation Fund’s total investment amount to nearly $5.5 million in 65 ventures.

On Wednesday, May 31, five finalists presented their ventures to the Innovation Fund advisory committee, as well as to a standing-room only audience at the Polsky Exchange. Over 200 students, faculty, alumni, and members of the entrepreneurial and investing community heard from companies that are working in the fields of disease diagnostics, cancer radiation treatment targeting, renewable energy efficiency, and microbiome research. 

“There are four ingredients required for entrepreneurship to thrive at any university – talent, space, capital and collaboration. And of those, talent is the most important,” said John Flavin, Associate Vice President for Entrepreneurship and Innovation at the University of Chicago and head of the Polsky Center. “The Innovation Fund is not just as a showcase of our best ideas; but a showcase of some of our best talent from across the university.” 

The Innovation Fund, which is managed by the Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation, invests in promising technologies and startups created by current faculty, students, and staff of the University and its affiliates, including Argonne National Laboratory, Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory, and the Marine Biological Laboratory. Fund applicants receive expert feedback from a committee of industry experts, both internal and external to the University of Chicago - distinguished angel and venture capital investors, scientists, and entrepreneurs - to help them move their projects forward and create lasting impact.

The following teams will be receiving investments this year: 

AVNovum will be awarded up to $150,000 to further the development of a new class of antimicrobial peptides that maintain healthy fungal microbiomes by preventing virulence and infection. AVnovum works through mechanisms that specifically target only virulent microbes. AVnovum is driven by a diverse team of research scientists and advisors from the University of Chicago Medical Center with scientific, entrepreneurial, and business backgrounds, who are dedicated to improving patient outcomes in those with diabetes, immunodeficiencies, and immunosuppression. 

ClostraBio will be awarded up to $200,000 for their work with the microbiome to target food allergies. ClostraBio is a preclinical stage biopharmaceutical company dedicated to ending the burden and anxiety of living with food allergies. ClostraBio leverages recent discoveries in the microbiome - the trillions of bacteria and other microbes living in and on people - to create new drugs that prevent allergic reactions to food. ClostraBio is led by a world-renowned team of researchers and business experts from the University of Chicago, and has been featured in premier scientific journals. ClostraBio also participated in the finals of the Edward L. Kaplan, ’71, New Venture Challenge on Thursday, June 1 – taking fourth place and receiving $40,000 from the Polsky Center. 

Switched Source will be awarded up to $150,000 for their work increasing the reliability and efficiency of the last mile of electricity delivery. Switched Source provides advanced hardware solutions to electrical utilities that make their operations more efficient and reliable while increasing their capability to host more renewable energy on the grid. Switched Source is led by a team that has deep domain experience in the electricity and power electronics space. Switched Source also competed in the New Venture Challenge finals, finishing in second place and receiving $80,000. 

The announcement of investments into AVNovum and ClostraBio follows on other exciting University developments in the microbiome field. On May 24, the University of Chicago announced a $100M gift from The Duchossois Family Foundation to the University of Chicago to establish The Duchossois Family Institute, which seeks to accelerate research that combines genetics, immunology and microbiome to create 'new science of wellness'. A key component of The Duchossois Family Institute is the Research Incubator/Accelerator, which will be supported by the Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation. The Polsky Center will help accelerate breakthrough discoveries from our UChicago microbiome scientists and faculty—including the teams behind AVNovum and ClostraBio—by supporting the development, translation and entrepreneurship of this science through several competitive programs.

About the Polsky Center 
The Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation drives venture creation and technology commercialization within the University of Chicago and surrounding community. Through education, partnerships, and venture support, the Polsky Center advances the knowledge and practice of entrepreneurship and accelerates the commercialization of research. Among its offerings is the top-ranked accelerator program, the Edward L. Kaplan, ’71, New Venture Challenge, which is where companies like GrubHub and Braintree got their start. Since 1996, the New Venture Challenge has helped launch more than 160 companies worldwide that have gone on to achieve more than $4 billion in mergers and exits and raised over $575 million in funding. The Polsky Center helps students, faculty, staff, alumni, researchers and local entrepreneurs navigate the complex process of creating and growing a startup. Its resources include a 34,000 square-foot, multi-disciplinary co-working space called the Polsky Exchange; a $20 million Innovation Fund that invests in early-stage ventures; and a state-of-the-art Fabrication Lab for prototyping new products. By leveraging the University’s distinctive strengths in research and a combined research budget of more than $1.5 billion from its three affiliates—Argonne National Laboratory, Fermilab, and the Marine Biological Laboratory—the Polsky Center paves the way for more ideas to have a meaningful impact on society. Learn more at polsky.uchicago.edu.