NSF I-CORPS
POSTDOCTORAL
ENTREPRENEURSHIP
PROGRAM

Accelerating commercialization

Helping UW postdocs continue on their path to commercialization

Program description

In recognition of the invaluable role postdoctoral researchers play in commercialization success at UW, our program funds talented commercially focused individuals to work in UW labs on key translational experiments to identify and obtain company funding and to further develop the business model, without the obligation of academic grants or the pressure of having to find a job upon graduation. The program provides funds to cover salary for a full-time position as a Postdoctoral Entrepreneur plus UW employee benefits for one year. The salaries are aligned with the NIH postdoctoral pay scale. The Postdoctoral Entrepreneurs work closely with both their faculty advisor and the CoMotion Innovation Development team to advance commercialization activities and project development. This program builds upon CoMotion’s commitment to provide focused resources and training needed to successfully transform UW technology into economic and societal impact.

Eligibility

  • Strong preference to UW Postdoctoral researchers or graduating PhD students.
  • Working on a technology that has been disclosed and under management at CoMotion.
  • Preference given to candidates who have demonstrated engagement in commercialization activities, such as I-Corps, Idea to Plan, Dempsey Business Plan Competition, Holloman Health Challenge, Environmental Innovation Challenge, Innovation Gap Fund, or other similar programs.

Evaluation criteria

Invited proposals are selected based on their commercial potential, candidate’s prior commercialization experience, and desire to spin the technology out into a company.

How it works

Postdoctoral Entrepreneurs work with their CoMotion Innovation Manager and industry mentors to delve into IP strategy, market validation, competitive landscape analysis, and funding opportunities for their innovation. Beyond this core engagement, the program offers bespoke opportunities to enhance both new and experienced Postdoctoral Entrepreneurs’ understanding of how to build and run a successful startup during the monthly luncheon meetings. These meetings offer an intimate environment that features subject matter expert guest speakers, past Postdoctoral Entrepreneurs, and a unique path to pursue collaborations and networking. The Postdoctoral Entrepreneurs will also have access to year-round resources and special events to keep up with the latest market trends in their fields.

Featured member of current cohort

Sarah Pristash

Apex Solar Conversions

“I’m very grateful to CoMotion for their support as we navigate this “bridge” period of technology development and customer discovery!”

- Sarah Pristash, Postdoctoral Scholar, Chemistry

Our innovation is a film that can be plugged into the existing solar stack and allows a solar panel to convert sunlight to electricity more effectively. In any solar cell, only a portion of the incident sunlight can be converted to electricity, while another portion will always pass directly through the cell like a window. Our technology takes that transmitted light and reflects it back into the cell at a frequency that can be used to generate electricity, allowing more power to be generated. In other words, we enable panels to generate more power from the same amount of sunlight.

Thus far, we have participated in two rounds of the Innovation Gap Fund. In our first round, we won a $10,000 customer discovery award which allowed us to fine-tune our approach to the solar market. In our second round in Spring 2022 we won the full $50K Innovation Gap Fund award. We also participated in the Idea to Plan workshop in January and are in the summer 2022 cohort of I-Corps.

I joined the Postdoctoral Entrepreneurship Program (PEP) program in April 2022 following my graduation. As a recent PhD graduate, the program has really allowed me to focus on the transition from academic research to commercialization, which has been so valuable. I’m very grateful to CoMotion for their support as we navigate this “bridge” period of technology development and customer discovery!

Success stories

David Younger

A-Alpha Bio

“The CoMotion Postdoctoral Entrepreneurship Program allowed a year where we only focused on developing and proving out the technology for a commercial application.”

- David Younger, Co-founder & CEO of A-Alpha Bio

A-Alpha Bio, Inc. was founded by David Younger and Randolph Lopez as a spinout from the UW’s Institute for Protein Design and the Center for Synthetic Biology. A-Alpha Bio is launching a proprietary synthetic biology platform, AlphaSeq, to aid in the development of drugs that interact with multiple targets. This approach enables pharmaceutical companies and other research groups to efficiently characterize their drug candidates for efficacy and specificity and better predict how each will perform in the clinic.

David Younger co-invented AlphaSeq while working on his Ph.D. in Bioengineering at UW with scientific advisors David Baker and Eric Klavins. “I have been working on the technical platform for many years through my Ph.D, but the output is constrained in an academic setting,” David said. “The CoMotion Postdoctoral Entrepreneurship Program allowed a year where we didn’t have to worry about publishing, and only focused on developing and proving out the technology for a commercial application.” As a member of the PEP, David and his team tested the platform for applications involving small molecules, and got exciting preliminary data that led to customer discovery interviews and conversations with partners, which accelerated the business development work. Assisted and supported by CoMotion, A-Alpha Bio participated in and won the $25,000 first prize at both the Buerk Center’s Holloman Health Innovation Challenge and the Dempsey Startup Competition in 2018. These funds have allowed them to explore further business development, technology involvement, team building, and outreach to potential customers. David said, “[Joining the PEP] is a fantastic experience! It’s a self-directed year to be able to explore commercial opportunity of technology, and you can accomplish a ton within a year if you work really hard.”

Greg Newbloom

Membrion

“Membrion wouldn’t exist if the Postdoctoral Entrepreneurship Program funding didn’t arrive when it did.”

- Dr. Greg Newbloom, Founder & CTO of Membrion

As a 2016 spinout from the laboratories of the UW, Membrion uses inexpensive materials – silica gel – to make robust membranes that filter molecules under any conditions. These low-cost and high-performance molecular filters can contribute to solving some of the world’s most challenging problems: clean water, global electrification, and human health. Dr. Greg Newbloom founded Membrion in 2016 as a University of Washington postdoc, and he is now the CEO of the company. “It’s important to understand that real commercialization opportunities require more than just research for technology,” Greg said. “You have to understand how your ideas fit within a bigger market picture and begin to build a commercial structure.” When asked about the monthly meetings with mentors and other teams, Greg said, “Running a business is a lot more than just developing the technology. So talking with them helped us make sure that we, as engineers, are not just focusing on technical issues, but keeping our perspective rounded for all the things that are important for commercialization.”

During its time in the Postdoctoral Entrepreneurship Program, Membrion was awarded a Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) grant which allowed them to collect data and get external funding for the company. CoMotion invited the team to attend CoMotion DubPitch, an event which helped them gain exposure, build relationships, and open up opportunities for potential investment. Membrion also won the Dempsey Startup Competition in May 2017. Toward the end of the program, Membrion successfully spun off as a company. The team now has 10 pending/awarded patents and products in development for water and battery applications.

“The ecosystem CoMotion has developed helps companies get the resources and expertise to spin off,” Greg said. “One of the most important things for entrepreneurs to figure out is that if a technology doesn’t have a chance of working, it’s better to learn that in a year in the Postdoctoral Entrepreneurship Program than to spend five or ten years working on something that is not promising. You could’ve easily moved on to the next great idea in that time frame.”

Richard Lee & Shawn Swanson

MedsForAll

“We’ve always received selfless support from CoMotion. They have always been a cheerleader along the way!”

- Shawn Swanson, Co-founder & CEO of MedsForAll

MedsForAll has created an affordable epinephrine auto-injector alternative to existing, expensive auto-injectors, which will provide access to a life-saving drug to consumers currently priced out of the market in the U.S. and abroad. This device is designed to utilize any medication that comes in a glass ampule and requires intramuscular delivery.

The team won a first-place prize in the 2017 Buerk Center’s Hollomon Health Innovation Challenge, which came with a $15,000 award. They then won fourth-place at the Dempsey Startup Competition. That gave the team a high profile, as well as money to expedite product development. The team participated in CoMotion DubPitch in June 2019 where they made valuable connections with investors who have the potential to fuel their business.

MedsForAll joined the PEP in September 2018. While participating in the program, they were able to work on MedsForAll projects full-time and take the next steps forward by regularly speaking with advisors, utilizing CoMotion’s expertise on patent strategy, fundraising, and building a strategic business model, as well as participating in the SBIR program, and accessing CoMotion’s many resources. “The monthly meetings were extremely helpful,” Shawn shared. “The meetings brought us closer to other PEP teams who are going through the same process, such as applying for grants and participating in competitions. By seeing each other regularly, we were made aware of other opportunities, heard advice, and gave each other timely feedback.” Shawn added, “We’ve always received selfless support and help from CoMotion as quickly as we’ve needed it, regardless of our urgent timeline. CoMotion has always been a cheerleader along the way!”