One of CoMotion’s most impactful programs targets entrepreneurial UW grad students and postdocs who want to further explore the commercialization potential of the innovations they helped create. Called the CoMotion Commercialization Fellows Program (CFP), this one-year fellowship gives them time to focus on the next steps in their commercialization journey without the obligation of academic grants or the pressure of having to find a job upon graduation.
Fellows work with CoMotion innovation managers to delve into important commercialization issues, take advantage of additional resources, and work with mentors who have expertise and connections in every field. The innovation managers help teams with assessing marketing opportunity, preparing proposals, pursuing business development funds, customer discovery, engaging with potential customers and partners, filing patents, advising on IP strategy as well as offering advice that will help them move closer to reaching their commercialization goals.
Fellows are also required to attend monthly luncheon meetings with other CFP teams and mentors. At the meetings, managers share insights and offer feedback, and Fellows benefit from hearing others’ experiences as well. Each luncheon also features a subject matter expert guest speaker who imparts their knowledge. Past Fellows have shared that the CFP was very helpful in building their team, improving technology, developing the business, and providing outreach to potential customers and investors.
CFP has had over 45 Fellows from 17 departments, supporting students from the bachelor’s to the postdoc level. To date, CoMotion Commercialization Fellows have helped launch over 20 startups based on University of Washington technology.
Read on to learn more about our past Fellows and their experience in the program.
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 Commercialization Fellows 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 CFP, 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 CFP] 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.”
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 as a Commercialization Fellow, 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 out 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 out,” 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 as a Commercialization Fellow 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.”
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 CFP in September 2018. As Fellows, they have been 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 CFP 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!”