There was quite a lot of interest in our post about Project Olympus
, the startup incubator at Carnegie-Mellon University. I think it’s a (good) sign that many people are trying to understand what does or doesn’t work in the university commercialization process. To further help get the information out there I’m posting a detailed follow up from Kit Needham (PDF bio
) who is the Senior Business Advisor and Executive in Residence at Project Olympus:
“I am the Senior Business Adviser for Olympus. In response to your very thoughful question, the answer is simply that we truly filled a gap. While there were many professors at CMU who pursued commercialization of their technology that fed into our Tech Transfer system and the other organizations listed, there were many that just had not really considered commercialization. Further, they are often not at the stage where the path to commercialization is obvious. That is where we come in. We have initial exploratory conversations with the faculty and help by providing some preliminary market analysis, walk them through what is involved in commercialization, what their options are, etc. So were are simply creating more, better prepared ‘deal flow’ for our Tech Transfer office and the other organizations in the diagram. For the students, there was no other incubator space where they could meet 24/7, leave their equipment and notes on a white board, and collaborate with other student team members.
Also, when Olympus was getting started and as we grew, we sat down and talked with the staff of these organizations, and explained what we were intending to do. It was clear that this was going to be a true collaboration where what we did complemented and supported what they do. For instance, once one of our PROBEs ‘graduates’ to another agency or organization, they become the primary adviser. We stay informed but are very careful not to be giving conflicting advice. The staff of the other organizations regularly attend our events and, as mentioned earlier, when we think there is a possible fit with one of the organization’s program, we set up exploratory meetings with the faculty (and students). Again, we help identify (and help prepare) good prospects for their programs that they otherwise may not find that connection.
To Ben’s question, we haven’t really been in operation long enough for one of our PROBEs to have crossed the finish line, although one student PROBE is getting close. You can go to our website (olympus.cs.cmu.edu) to see the various PROBEs, link to their websites and see recent news about them as well as see the testimonials.”
Thanks Kit for the excellent comments. One thing I find interesting is how integrated Olympus is with both professors and students who are the source of new startups, and upstream funders and mentoring organization who Olympus can “hand off” projects to. It’s not easy establishing this level of integration especially where every organization wants (and probably deserves) some credit if the project succeeds.
If other people have interesting startup incubator stories they’d like to share please contact me and I’ll post it.