A Brilliant Idea: The Tulane University Innovation Institute
Tulane University’s Innovation Institute is an accelerator for transforming innovative ideas into thriving businesses. Even before its official launch of new programming scheduled to coincide with the start of the 2023 fall semester, the Innovation Institute assisted cutting edge startups to get their ideas to market.
Kimberly Gramm, Chief Innovation and Entrepreneurship Officer at Tulane University, describes the Innovation Institute as a startup for startups. “It provides support and funding for early-stage ideas, offering a portfolio of programs to help individuals learn what it takes to build a technology, build a team, launch a startup, and understand what investors need to see to be an investable company,” Gramm said.
The Innovation Institute’s mentorship network features entrepreneurs-in-resi- dence, de-risking expertise, and adminis- trative, budgetary, marketing, and brand- ing support.
By providing proof-of-concept and early-stage startup gap funding for promising technologies, the Tulane University Innovation Institute aids aspiring entrepreneurs to commercialize Tulane’s copious research. As the region’s largest federally funded research university, Tulane wields enormous potential to significantly increase its positive impact on the local economy.
THE HEART OF INNOVATION
Gramm said the Innovation Institute serves not only as a catalyst to bring new and diverse technologies to market, but also serves as a magnet for talent and capital in the region.
While it primarily focuses on products and services developed by its students and faculty, the Institute also plans to support the greater south Louisiana community by funding entrepreneurs who have traditionally faced barriers accessing capital, markets and networks essential to growing their businesses. That includes women, who are typically under-represented in business, and those from underserved communities.
With the aim of becoming the leading entrepreneurial hub for the Southeast region, the Innovation Institute is strategically situated at the heart of the budding innovation district and is poised to attract researchers and innovators throughout the Gulf South. The ultimate focus is to create a self-sustaining vibrant innovative ecosystem.
“New Orleans has a creative spirit,” says Jeffrey Silverman, a Tulane alumnus who is one of the founders of the Innovation Institute and Managing Director of Laconia Capital Group based in New York City. “The city has been known for the petrochemical and hospitality industries, yet the market has also made big strides in the biomedical, digital media, and technology sectors according to the Downtown Development District New Orleans. I see the Tulane Innovation Institute helping to continue to fuel that growth and diversify New Orleans revenue.”
SUCCESS STORY – INFORMUTA
Informuta is a shining example of what can happen when innovators receive support from the Innovation Institute.
Conceived by doctoral students Kalen Hall & Leo Williams, Informuta utilizes machine learning models and artificial intelligence to provide next- generation diagnostics, tracking, detection, and treatments for antimicrobial resistant infections.
Benefiting from the Innovation Institute’s programs and mentoring, including winning the Innovation Institute’s first Open MIC Pitch Night, its co-founders have transformed Informuta from a glimmer of an idea to a prize-winning commercialization team in less than 9 months poised to become a technology startup.
The Tulane University Innovation Institute was awarded $5 million from the state of Louisiana as part of the U.S. Treasury’s $10 billion State Small Business Credit Initiative (SSBCI). Tulane University matched the award with another $5 million, enabling the Innovation Institute to launch the $10 million seed stage startup fund.
Leveraging several generous gifts from forward-thinking philanthropists and expert investors who recognize its powerful potential, the Innovation Institute provides a catalyst for successful alumni to give back to their university, New Orleans, and the region.
“Tulane’s Green Wave Innovation Network (GWIN) launches this fall with a population of 80 registered mentors with an additional 50 who’ve shown interest in getting involved with the Innovation Institute,” Gramm said. “These alumni work in Silicon Valley, in New York City, and other entrepreneur hotspots but out of their love for Tulane and their love for New Orleans, they want to give back, to see the region prosper.”
The Priddy Family Foundation and the David and Marion Mussafer Innovation Fund have been major investors. “Throughout my career I’ve loved watching small ventures grow into thriving enterprises,” Robert Priddy said.
Tulane University President Michael Fitts, who has been enthusiastic about the Innovation Institute from the beginning, lauded the backing received from successful alumni, saying, “For Tulane to have the Priddys’ and Mussafers’ generous support represents a resounding endorsement of this ambitious project.”
Gramm said the Institute anticipates having an equity stake in dozens of startups and expects to attract more than $100 million in capital to the region.
The Innovation Institute draws a range of people together from across academic disciplines, including from the school of law, business, engineering, architecture, and medicine, to run innovation startup clinics and provide monthly webinars. “We’re bringing down silos,” Silverman says. “The Tulane University Innovation Institute will energize an entrepreneurial culture, creating jobs that benefit the entire community.”
Undergraduate students can also get involved through Tulane’s Academic Service Learning program, a collaborative partnership between the university and the community. Students work with startup founders supported by the Innovation Institute and, in turn, are inspired to adopt an entrepreneurial outlook and foster a sense of the importance of civic engagement.
Tulane will officially launch the Innovation Institute, including announcing who the new Investment Director will be, in July 2023.
In order to attract further interest in the Innovation Institute and have a positive impact on the region, the university will undertake an outreach program to inform other universities, non-government organizations, chambers of commerce, and the wider community about the Innovation Institute’s funding opportunities, programs, eligibility requirements, and options for getting involved.
With the launch of the Innovation Institute programs this coming fall, Tulane University has created a key strategic driver for entrepreneurial endeavors in the region. Its vision of establishing the Innovation Institute as a major focal point for the kind of innovation that puts New Orleans and the region on the global innovation map appears to be coming to fruition.
For Gramm, it’s all part of the Innovation Institute’s plan to create “a systemic and persistent output of new startups who are funded here and have the capability to grow by adding local talent and finding the capital they need to make great societal and economic impact.”