Students enjoy the Blue Devil Return, an all-campus welcome back carnival on the Abele Quad featuring a variety of inflatables, games, a movie on the lawn, an array of carnival food, and fireworks. Uniquely special to the evening, the class of 2024 gets together for a unique photo opportunity in front of Duke Chapel.

Student engagement along the innovation and entrepreneurship process: how Duke student fellows assist OTC in tech assessment, marketing, and investment

Whether it’s evaluating early-stage technologies, helping position start-up projects, or participating in investment decisions, Duke students, trainees, and early-career faculty and staff add depth to OTC’s ability to commercialize Duke innovations.

Some technologies have a clear path to commercialization, be it through a previous sponsored research contract or consulting connection between an inventor and industry. However, for many others the road is harder to see. To help those projects, OTC works to engage inventors and their technology projects earlier, in a holistic way, to chart a successful course to the marketplace.

These technologies may be in the form of early prototype of a medical device, a small molecule that looks promising in early animal studies, a new material for more efficient water filtration, an alpha version of a software, or any number of innovations. Each has a unique project timeline, stage of development, and possible partnership opportunities – and it takes a village to dissect the science and figure out with whom and how to discuss the potential benefits and advantages each technology carries.

OTC is building that village and providing new opportunities for our students to participate in all aspects of the innovation and commercialization process. These student teams include talented Duke graduate students, post-docs, and early-career faculty and staff who combine their unique expertise with training from OTC to bolster our capabilities and gain new skills and networks for themselves.

OTC Fellows, primarily science and engineering graduate students and postdocs, engage with Duke technologies at the earliest stage of our process, when an invention disclosure is submitted to our office. These fellows are trained to evaluate a technology’s market potential and the patent and competitive landscape and generate a technology and marketing assessment document for each technology. This document serves as an invaluable tool for the licensing manager, inventors, and patent attorney to develop and implement protection, marketing, and commercialization strategies. In FY22, more than one-half of disclosed technologies received tech assessments from the OTC Fellows.

OTC Fellows also assist in marketing early-stage technologies with potential industry partners by creating initial marketing materials used for both passive marketing on OTC’s publicly accessible Available Technologies database, and by identifying company targets for direct outreach to solicit interest and feedback.

“Duke’s OTC Fellow program is an incredible resource to OTC as well as the university overall,” said Galo Mejia, Technology Marketing Associate and OTC Fellows Program co-director. “Our Fellows’ hard work allows us to bring value to our industry relationships and informs the way we manage Duke’s intellectual property. It’s also a unique experience for the Fellows: it gives them a peek behind the curtain of technology commercialization and is a great introduction to careers outside of academia.”

With the OTC Fellows’ help, the Technology Marketing team was able to share over 200 technologies with 645 companies around the world in FY22, resulting in about 40 new engagements with industry, and leading to four option agreements and one sponsored research agreement. The continual conversations and feedback received from industry also provide invaluable insight on market and technology trends and conditions that help in the management of our technology portfolio, ultimately saving the office and inventors time and money to focus on more commercially attractive technology development.

While they provide invaluable support for OTC when they are going through the program, OTC Fellows also gain highly marketable tech transfer experience. Former OTC Fellows have found themselves in patent specialist roles at large biotech companies, working in executive level positions in start-ups, as consultants in large and boutique firms, and more.

For some technologies, the path forward may lead toward spinning out a new company, or start-up. OTC’s New Ventures team provides Duke inventors with a variety of services related to start-up creation, resulting in the formation of 14 new companies in FY22.

New Ventures also has their own fellows program: New Venture Fellows. These Fellows participate as part of a collaboration with the Fuqua School of Business and contribute the experience and skills to help Duke founders build pitch decks, business and financial plans, market assessments, and more.

“The New Venture Fellow program provides our MBA students the hands-on opportunity to work closely with both a technical founder and a highly experienced industry executive (Duke Mentor-in-Residence) to help birth a new start-up company based on Duke technology,” said Jeff Welch, Director of New Ventures. “It is the only program of its kind in the country, a unique opportunity to learn valuable strategic marketing skills in a live-fire exercise at an early career stage.”

In FY22, 15 New Venture Fellows paired up with 14 potential start-up projects. Previous New Venture Fellows have gone on to careers in corporate development, strategic marketing, and executive roles at some of the most innovative technology and biotechnology companies in the world.

Capital is an essential part of start-up formation and growth. The Duke Angel Network (DAN) brings Duke investors together with Duke entrepreneurs to fund and support their early-stage start-ups. DAN’s impact on the Duke innovation ecosystem is undeniable: the Network has made capital commitments of more than $50 million in over 40 portfolio companies, with a total enterprise value surpassing $4 billion.

DAN also shares OTC’s mission of early engagement with Duke innovators. Its support of portfolio companies goes far beyond the capital it provides them. DAN leverages a powerful Duke network, which brings thought leadership and deep sector expertise to help its portfolio founders, and their companies, to reach their full potential. By making early investments in Duke-related companies, as well as by matching advisors and board members with the start-ups, DAN maximizes the impact these groundbreaking innovations can have on society.

Core to DAN’s work is the DAN student Associate program. DAN Associates are given the opportunity to learn about venture capital by participating in every aspect of the investment process, including deal sourcing, screening, and diligence. Since 2015, more than 80 Associates have received training on essential topics relevant to early-stage investing.

“The DAN Associate program has long been integral to the work we do,” said Kurt Schmidt, Managing Director of Duke Angel Network. “Our Associates join us from diverse disciplines across the university to learn – and actively engage in – the venture capital lifecycle. Student Associates roll up their sleeves on real, live investments, augmenting their classroom case studies. The DAN Associate program is unique among universities and our students complete their two years with experience that would be difficult to obtain anywhere else in graduate school.”

In FY22, 23 DAN Associates from Fuqua, Law, Pratt, and DUHS evaluated 795 investment opportunities, and helped author 17 diligence reports under the direction of the DAN team. DAN Associates gain invaluable experience and are prepared to compete for highly sought-after roles across the innovation economy. DAN Associates have gone on to careers in venture capital and private equity, founded start-ups, and joined executive ranks across many disciplines.

You can read more about DAN in a separate post welcoming them to OTC.

In FY22, OTC also explored how to expand the scope of experiences and cross-pollination among the fellows programs.

For highly technical and longer-term early-stage technology projects, OTC assigns an OTC Senior Fellow to support more detailed analysis and marketing. For example, an OTC Senior Fellow worked with a faculty team to perform and analyze primary market research on a new medical device. The surgeons wanted to understand if their conception of the unmet need and potential solution matched the actual clinical experience of the providers who would use this device, an intravascular oxygenator catheter that can serve as a stopgap for a patient enroute to a location with ECMO capabilities.

“It’s been very exciting to help contribute to commercialization strategies for this technology,” said Ellery Jones, OTC Senior Fellow and Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Biomedical Engineering. “Working directly with inventors has been an invaluable experience that highlights the important role of clinical researchers in developing new insights and inventions for the future of healthcare.”

“Working with Ellery via OTC has been a great example of the supportive commercialization ecosystem that exists at Duke,” said Dr. Tobias Straube, Assistant Professor of Pediatrics and co-inventor of the technology. “This infrastructure allows inventors to focus on their tech while simultaneously tackling the commercialization milestones early-on which are required to bring innovation to the bedside. Ellery’s scientific background positions her nicely to jump on a project and quickly add value to the work.”

It truly takes a village to guide technologies to market, and our trainee Fellows and Associates are an increasingly important part of that village. Not only do we hope they acquire the skills that will make them effective inventors, investors, and innovators into the future, but we also hope they build lasting connections within their programs and beyond, such as with the UNC entrepreneurial trainees through networking and career development events as part of our joint U.S. Economic Development Agency Sprint Challenge Award.

OTC is reaching out and staying in touch with students as they graduate and start their careers. In FY22, we began work with the Innovation & Entrepreneurship group to expand their new Duke Entrepreneurial Leaders Network, a group of exciting and engaged entrepreneurial alumni – which just had its first in-person annual meeting earlier in October.

Whether it’s improving our ability to get our early technologies to the marketplace or increasing  our students’ experiences within the innovation and entrepreneurship process, OTC looks forward to continuing to grow early engagement with the Duke innovation ecosystem.

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Duke Capital Partners joins the Office for Translation & Commercialization

As part of the Board of Trustees’ review of Research, Translation and Commercialization (RTC) at Duke, Duke Capital Partners’ (formerly the Duke Angel Network) move to the Office for Translation & Commercialization optimizes its contributions to Duke’s innovation ecosystem and enhances its members’ meaningful engagement with Duke innovators and entrepreneurs.

In FY22, Duke Capital Partners (formerly the Duke Angel Network) joined the Office for Translation & Commercialization (OTC). As part of our office, Duke Capital Partners’ contributions to Duke’s innovation ecosystem augment OTC’s capacity to bring life-changing inventions to market.

Duke Capital Partners is an investment network of Duke alumni, faculty, and parents and provides exciting opportunities for its members to invest in early-stage companies with a Duke connection and for Duke-affiliated entrepreneurs to pitch their companies for potential investment.

“Duke Capital Partners was formed to address the growing need for early-stage capital to propel Duke-connected start-ups, engage alumni and friends in the life of the university in novel and meaningful ways, and to provide in-the-trenches venture capital investing experience for students from across disciplines,” said Kurt Schmidt, Managing Director of Duke Capital Partners. “We cultivate relationships with alumni who not only make capital investments in Duke start-ups, but who also share their time and expertise with portfolio companies to ensure their success.”

Founded in 2015, Duke Capital Partners has invested in 43 companies with a combined enterprise value of over $4 billion. The past few years have been ones of rapid growth for the network, with more than 70% of its total investments made in the last three years alone. This growth is translating into success, with five company exits to date, four of which occurred in the last 18 months.

According to data from the Angel Capital Association, Duke Capital Partners is the #1 university angel network in North America based on invested capital. Duke Capital Partners is also the most active venture capital firm/angel network in the Southeast, per Pitchbook data based on number of investments.

However, financial investments are just a small part of Duke Capital Partners’ story. A key function of the network is as a platform for Duke alumni, faculty, staff, and students to continue engaging with the university – and with each other – in a new and exciting way.

Beyond financing, Duke Capital Partners provides longitudinal support and mentorship for entrepreneurs as they navigate early-stage growth.

“Duke Capital Partners has been everything we could’ve asked for in a lead investor; I’m incredibly lucky to be backed by such a supportive and helpful team,” said Kasper Kubica (B.S. ’17), co-founder and COO of sweat-stopping lotion company Carpe. “Duke Capital Partners has been a steadfast partner through every up and down, and the Duke Capital Partners member on our board has brought a wealth of experience, which has broadened Carpe’s options and success.”

Beyond supporting current Duke entrepreneurs and investors, Duke Capital Partners is also committed to growing the next generation of venture capital professionals and building out the network. Duke Capital Partners has trained more than 80 Associates: students and early-career professionals from across Duke, from the Fuqua School of Business to the Schools of Medicine and Nursing, and everything in between. These Associates leave with not only the skills and experience gained from participating in every part of the investment process, but also with an engaged and dedicated network they can always tap back into. In FY22, 23 Duke Capital Partners Associates, the largest cohort since Duke Capital Partners’ inception, evaluated 795 investment opportunities which culminated in 17 diligence reports.

“Adding Duke Capital Partners to the OTC group enables us to not only provide the Duke Capital Partners members with more opportunities to review potential start-up investments, but also to engage these members, most of whom have considerable industry and investment experience, to act as advisors to faculty entrepreneurs and to OTC as it considers its own investment into early-stage innovations,” said Robin Rasor, Associate VP for Translation & Commercialization.

Since joining forces in FY22, the synergies between Duke Capital Partners and OTC have become even more apparent. Duke Capital Partners has increased its insight into early-stage technologies coming out of Duke, and OTC has tapped into the mentorship and market expertise of the Duke Capital Partners Operating Team and broader member network. For example, several early-stage start-ups that OTC is helping spin up have met with Duke Capital Partners members to better develop their product positioning and understand market dynamics.

OTC is proud to be the new home of Duke Capital Partners. Together, our organizations can more efficiently grow our reach and support of Duke inventors, entrepreneurs, and investors, as well as provide a unique educational experience for Duke students. “Duke Capital Partners operates under the assumption that our value to Duke goes far beyond being a source of smart capital,” said Schmidt. “The Duke Capital Partners Operating Team, members, and Associates work in lock step with faculty, student, and alumni founders to commercialize innovative technologies that are poised to change the world. Being part of the OTC team enhances our ability to empower Duke innovators as they build transformative companies, and we are glad to forge the future of Duke innovation hand in hand with OTC.”

By co-locating Duke Capital Partners within OTC, the university has consolidated the innovation pipeline – from invention to IP management, to licensing and start-up creation – and added investment dollars, mentorship, and market expertise to OTC’s suite of services. This partnership is creating an even more robust innovation ecosystem and advances the university’s ongoing Research Translation and Commercialization initiative.

Tune Therapeutics Launches with Pioneering Epigenomic Control Platform to Master Gene Networks, Treat Broad Range of Diseases

Tune Therapeutics, a biotechnology company pioneering the creation of epi-therapeutic medicines, launched today with its powerful and precise genetic tuning platform, TEMPO. This cutting-edge technology dials gene expres-sion up or down to desired levels – with the potential to reverse pathways of cancer, genetic disease, and aging by changing cell fate and function at will.

Venture Day 2022 Highlights Early-stage Life-science Companies in the Triangle

The innovation and entrepreneurial ecosystem across the Research Triangle region is important to our regional economy. Continued growth of the ecosystem relies on collaborations among top research universities often resulting in new business formation, or startups, to help push innovation forward in order to create impact across North Carolina and beyond.

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Menarini Group and Radius Health Submit New Drug Application to the U.S. FDA for Elacestrant

The Menarini Group (“Menarini”) and Radius Health, Inc. (“Radius”) (NASDAQ: RDUS) (collectively, the “Companies”) announced that Menarini, with support from Radius, has submitted a New Drug Application (NDA) to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for elacestrant in patients with ER+/HER2- advanced or metastatic breast cancer.

After Decades of Research, Drug Developed at Duke Receives FDA Approval

The phone rang into the pediatric unit that Louise Markert, M.D., Ph.D., was staffing as a junior faculty member in 1991. Had she not answered, there would have been little hope for the more than one hundred patients who were subsequently treated.

The call was from a doctor in Tennessee, seeking insights from Duke’s renowned pediatric immunology team to help him treat a child who was born without a functioning thymus gland. That question launched Markert on a 30-year exploration for a viable treatment.

Bridgestone Invests in Duke Start-up, Tire Technology Company Tyrata

Bridgestone Americas (Bridgestone) today announced a minority investment in tire sensor and data management company Tyrata, Inc. (Tyrata). Using an automated and cost-effective drive-over solution that measures tire tread, Tyrata collects tire wear data and provides actionable, cloud-based analytics. This strategic investment accelerates Bridgestone’s efforts to deploy advanced mobility solutions that improve fleet safety, efficiency and sustainability.

Kriya Expands Gene Therapy Pipeline and Establishes its Rare Disease Therapeutic Area Division with the Acquisition of Warden Bio

Kriya Therapeutics, Inc., a fully integrated company pioneering novel technologies and therapeutics in gene therapy, announced today that it has acquired Warden Bio, a company developing novel AAV-mediated gene therapies for glycogen storage disorders (GSDs). Under the agreement, Kriya has obtained exclusive rights to Warden Bio’s five preclinical gene therapy programs. This acquisition serves as the foundation for Kriya’s Rare Disease Division focused on the discovery and development of gene therapies for rare diseases.

Xilis Raises $70 Million Series A Financing to Advance Diagnostic and Drug Discovery and Development Platform Leveraging Proprietary MicroOrganoSphere™ Technology

Xilis, Inc., a pioneering company using its MicroOrganoSphere (MOS) technology to guide precision therapy for cancer patients and accelerate drug discovery and development, today announced the close of a $70 million Series A financing. The round was led by Mubadala Capital, joined by new investors GV (formerly Google Ventures), LSP (one of Europe’s largest healthcare investment firms), Catalio Ventures, Duke Endowment, and Duke Angel Network. Current investors Felicis Ventures, Two Sigma Ventures, Pear VC, KdT Ventures, and Alix Ventures also participated.