UM and Partners Push to Accelerate Technology Innovation in South Florida
When University of Miami President Julio Frenk delivered his inauguration speech on January 29, one of the ambitious ideas he put forth was “the development of a major innovation hub with hemispheric scope” — a challenge for which he said the University was uniquely positioned. Strengthened by a new partnership and directed by a new strategy, UM is setting off on the path to meet Frenk’s challenge to develop a hemispheric innovation and technology hub.
A recent change — one awaiting installation of new signage — is the rebranding of UM’s Life Science and Technology Park as Converge Miami. When UM opened the six-story, 252,000-square-foot facility on September 23, 2011, then-President Donna E. Shalala called it “a game-changer” for Miami, and “a place where education, research, and technology intersect with discovery and innovation.” Its new name will convey that the building — and, by extension, UM — is that hub of innovation Frenk wants to be a hemispheric magnet for exciting new ideas.
Located in the northeast corner of Miami’s Health District, the facility — a partnership between UM and Wexford Science & Technology, a real estate developer that specializes in projects for universities, medical centers and research companies — has served as a home for both faculty-generated and non-UM biotech start-ups, and for U Innovation.
UM and Wexford are now joined by the Cambridge Innovation Center (CIC), a highly successful 17-year-old Cambridge, Mass.-based technology incubator with locations around the country.
The addition of CIC is no surprise. Wexford has already partnered with CIC in several U.S. cities, and Frenk developed contacts at CIC during his tenure as Dean of the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health. CIC currently manages the 3rd floor of Converge Miami and has built out the top floor to support startups in various stages.
“For Miami to become a major hub for hemispheric innovation, we must partner with the broader innovation ecosystem,” Frenk said. “CIC has an established record of attracting the startup community, as well as larger companies that wish to be close to the entrepreneurial environment.”
Led by Norma Sue Kenyon, Ph.D., Vice Provost for Innovation and Chief Innovation Officer of the Miller School of Medicine, U Innovation is comprised of the Office of Technology Transfer (OTT) and the Wallace H. Coulter Center for Translational Research (WHCC).
“CIC provides a high-collision environment for entrepreneurship and innovation,” said Kenyon. “They have used vibrant colors to give it a very ‘Miami’ feel, and they configured the space so that entrepreneurs encounter one another as they use the space. There are places where people naturally congregate and talk about new ideas. They’re not renting an office in a warehouse where they are isolated.”
Also new at Converge Miami, and created as a way to bring the local innovation community together, is the Venture Café. Held from 5 to 8 p.m. every Thursday, it offers a variety of informative seminars and talks, but is primarily a networking event that is already attracting 150 to 200 entrepreneurs, accelerators, investors, law firms and others each week. U Innovation’s Concept to Commercialization events, a monthly series of one-hour seminars focused on the commercialization process regarding intellectual property and business concepts are now held within Venture Cafe.
UM’s greatest contribution, however, is intellectual capital — its faculty, especially from the Miller School of Medicine, has dominated the number of ideas brought to life at what is now Converge Miami.
OTT, directed by Jim O’Connell, is responsible for protection and commercialization of UM intellectual property, including management of patents and licensing to start-up or established companies.
The WHCC works closely with OTT, providing funding and business mentoring for UM’s most promising biomedical technologies. Over the past few years, commercialization activities at UM have ramped up, with more than three-fold increases in licensing and net intellectual property revenue. More than 80 percent of UM startups were formed since FY12, and $2.66 million in research expenditures for WHCC projects has resulted in more than $96 million in follow-on funding (venture, angel, private, federal or state business-related dollars).
“One of the strongest themes at UM, which cuts across every school and college, is health and wellness,” said Kenyon, who is also professor of surgery, microbiology and immunology, and holds the Martin Kleiman Chair in Diabetes Research. “In FY16, 76 percent of our research expenditures, 80 percent of our disclosures and 88 percent of our startups were all related to the medical school.”
“One of the challenges with having the vast majority of activity coming from the medical school is that it often takes 10 to 12 years for a pharmaceutical product to come to market and make money,” said Kenyon. “We’re looking to diversify into devices, diagnostics and tests, and we’re picking up the pace.”
Some of the UM innovation success stories:
• Pelican Therapeutics — Biologic agents that represent the next generation of tumor necrosis factor-based immunotherapy. UM founders: Eckhard R. Podack, M.D., Ph.D., and Taylor H. Schreiber, M.D., Ph.D., Miller School of Medicine.
• Vigilant Biosciences — Early detection system for risk of oral cancer. UM founder: Elizabeth J. Franzmann, M.D., Miller School of Medicine.
• HealthSnap Solutions — Software that provides prevention-based assessment tools. UM founder: Wesley Smith, Ph.D., School of Education and Human Development.
• iFunction — Skills assessment and training package delivered remotely to help people with intellectual impairment in performing everyday tasks. UM founder: Peter Kallestrup, M.S., Entrepreneur-in-Residence, U Innovation Office of Technology Transfer.
UM’s innovation efforts are also moving outside of South Florida.
“President Frenk has encouraged us to dream big, because his vision is for hemispheric innovation and technology,” said Kenyon. “We have reorganized to better push our faculty-driven innovation out the door, but there are many more areas to be explored. We also want to attract entrepreneurs from Latin America and establish innovation collaborations with other universities.”
It’s about far more than just making money, Kenyon said.
“The rule of thumb is that out of 100 new technologies, you have one that makes it, and even fewer hit a home run,” she said. “But a lot of this effort is to gain knowledge; royalties can be reinvested in research and innovation. The question we ask ourselves is, how can we best take that knowledge and translate it into something that helps people?”