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Washington Research Foundation commits more than $1.2 million to Postdoctoral Entrepreneurship Program at UW and WSU

Written by Washington Research Foundation / September 13, 2023

Expanded program will provide training and support for early career researcher-entrepreneurs to get innovative technologies to market

Washington Research Foundation (WRF) has awarded more than $1.2 million to expand a University of Washington (UW) training program for entrepreneurs, and to partner with Washington State University (WSU) to establish a parallel, collaborative program at that institution later this year. The Postdoctoral Entrepreneurship Program (PEP) supports early-career innovators to improve the likelihood of successfully commercializing their technologies for public benefit.

PEP launched at UW a decade ago, administered by CoMotion, the university’s innovation arm. WRF’s grant will provide three years of comprehensive funding, including salary support for two postdocs per year at each institution. Selected postdocs at both universities will interact closely with members of their cohort, as well as their respective commercialization offices and industry mentors, to build entrepreneurial skills and de-risk technologies prior to launching a company or licensing an invention. Prospective awardees will be identified and nominated by their technology managers.

UW’s program has supported 29 startups and their founders since its launch, including Greg Newbloom (Membrion) and David Younger (A-Alpha Bio). Melanie Anderson and Sarah Pristash each completed the program and later successfully applied for the WRF Postdoctoral Fellowship to further develop their research.

Because PEP is new to WSU, the partnership will draw on UW’s experience and apply the expertise of both institutions’ commercialization offices to create a diverse cohort of researchers and bolster the region’s pool of entrepreneurial talent. CoMotion will independently fund two additional awards per year at UW.

WRF’s Director of Grant Programs Meher Antia said that this collaborative approach will build on the known benefits of cross-institutional partnerships and strengthen Washington’s innovation ecosystem.

“UW and WSU both have enviable commercialization records, and we expect that their combined strengths and perspectives will provide excellent training and increase the odds of much-needed technologies reaching the market,” Antia said.

She also sees PEP as a natural complement to WRF’s Postdoctoral Fellowship program.

“WRF’s postdoc program supports innovative research from early-career scientists,” Antia said. “PEP focuses more closely on providing business and commercialization training for aspiring entrepreneurs, and we will encourage awardees from both programs to interact with and learn from one another.”

“CoMotion is thrilled to share our highly effective postdoctoral commercialization training program with WSU, and grateful for WRF’s ongoing commitment in this area,” said François Baneyx, UW’s vice provost for innovation and director of CoMotion. “The commercialization of technologies developed in the state’s research institutions has the potential to deliver profound economic and societal benefits that will be felt throughout our region and the world.”

The two universities have a long history of effective partnerships, said Christopher Keane, vice president for research at WSU and vice chancellor for research at WSU Pullman. “Discoveries and innovations through our joint research and scholarly activities have fueled prosperity across the Pacific Northwest. The collaborative environment allows our researchers to bring their unique strengths together to tackle society’s biggest challenges. We are excited to join UW in this program, which will bridge the gap between academia and industry to translate our research into innovative practical applications that have high public impact and enhance the region’s economic competitiveness,” said Keane.

UW and WSU will select and announce PEP awardees on a rolling basis.

The news was also covered by GeekWire.