Tapping into Yale’s Resources for Funding, Designing, and Launching a Startup

Erika SmithErika Smith, M.B.A., Deputy Director, Yale Entrepreneurial Institute 
Erika Smith, M.B.A., Deputy Director, Yale Entrepreneurial Institute
YCCI has been collaborating with Yale’s Office of Cooperative Research (OCR) to accelerate the translation of research discoveries from the laboratory to patients. The OCR partners with faculty members to determine the commercial potential of their inventions and discoveries. OCR also protects intellectual property by filing patents for faculty inventions; licenses faculty technology; and connects researchers with commercial partners.

This year, YCCI is expanding efforts in this area by working with the Yale Entrepreneurial Institute (YEI). YEI is a multidisciplinary entrepreneurial accelerator —a center for identifying, encouraging, mentoring, and launching ventures that emphasizes the lean startup model and is staffed by experts with scientific as well as business expertise. YEI’s programs are designed to support entrepreneurs at every stage in the startup process, from exploring ideas and learning the startup language to developing a business plan, attracting investors, and launching a business. 

Through the OCR and YEI, faculty members, graduate students, and postdoctoral fellows can gain valuable insights into forming a startup; test the commercial potential of their research; find collaborative partners to launch a venture; and tap into funding and investment opportunities. YCCI supports these efforts, which are aligned with the aim of the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (NCATS)—to encourage partnerships with industry in order to speed the development of new therapeutics. 

There are a number of opportunities for active researchers available through YEI. For example, a wealth of grant money is available to researchers through the government’s Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer programs (STTR). Faculty members who form a startup around innovative research are eligible for up to $150,000 in Phase I grant money and up to $1,000,000 in Phase II. What’s more, awardees can receive matching grants of up to $30,000 through the SBIR Acceleration and Commercialization Program from Connecticut Innovations (CI), allowing researchers to gather additional data, protect intellectual property, conduct market research, and more. Qualifying companies may apply for up to two of these CI grants per year.

The National Institutes of Health is looking for small companies working to improve patient health; speed the process of discovery; reduce the cost of medical care and research; and improve research and communication tools. The NIH is one of 16 agencies that award $2.5 billion annually in SBIR or STTR grants to support small businesses to stimulate technological innovation aimed at developing products with commercial merit. The purpose of both programs is to move commercially viable ideas quickly through the “valley of death” to other funding sources.

YEI and YCCI hosted a lunch symposium on November 6 with guest speaker Lisa Kurek, the program director of SBIR Impact NYC and a managing partner of BBC Entrepreneurial Training and Consulting. Kurek explained the basics of the SBIR and STTR programs, highlighting what investigators should consider when applying for these awards. Click here for Lisa's slide presentation from the event.

Both programs award funding to small businesses to develop products based on technological innovation. The small businesses must have research facilities and employees. The SBIR program requires the principal investigator to have his or her primary employment (at least 51 percent) with the small business. Under the STTR program, primary employment with the business is not required, and grants are awarded for cooperative research, which is the development of technology between a small business and a partnering research university. While the STTR program requires collaboration with a nonprofit research institution, the SBIR program allows this requirement to be met through subcontracting. Faculty can meet the SBIR requirement of primary employment with the small business by serving as a consultant and appointing a postdoc to work for the company.

Yale SBIR Success Stories

Vincent Pieribone, Ph.D., professor of cellular and molecular physiology and of neurobiology, cofounded the New Haven-based company Marinus Pharmaceuticals in 2005, raising $29.4 million in Series A financing in addition to receiving an SBIR grant. The company is dedicated to the development and commercialization of novel drugs to treat serious neurological, psychiatric and pain disorders.


Adam Wisnewski, Ph.D., senior research scientist in medicine, has received multiple Phase I and Phase II STTR grants for his work with the New Haven-based startup L2 Diagnostics to develop innovative biomonitoring approaches to exposure surveillance for methylene diphenyl diisocyanate (MDI). This compound is used to make foams, coatings, and other products, but also leads to MDI asthma in exposed workers.


Michael Hodsdon, M.D., Ph.D., associate professor of laboratory medicine and of pharmacology and associate director of the Yale Clinical Chemistry Laboratory, was awarded a Phase I SBIR grant for his work developing a rapid phenotypic method relying on mass spectrometry to detect carbapenemase activity. This test would help prevent outbreaks of drug-resistant bacteria, a major threat to global health. Hodsdon’s New Haven-based startup, M/Z Diagnostics, includes David Peaper, M.D., Ph.D., assistant professor of laboratory medicine and director of the Clinical Microbiology Laboratory; and Mandar Kulkarni, Ph.D., who completed his postdoctoral fellowship at Yale.

Opportunities for Students

The Venture Creation Program (VCP) at YEI is designed to help students turn that nugget of an idea into commercial gold with financial support, mentoring, and expert advice. Student startups at any stage in the inspiration process will be given consideration for admittance into the VCP. Many of these early-stage teams have gone on to secure coveted Summer Fellowships, in which they work to develop their newly honed ideas into successful businesses. Selected teams receive up to $2,500 to develop their prototype or proof of concept, and are assigned a mentor. They are also provided with access to YEI consultants and corporate partners as well as a dedicated space in the YEI Incubator.


YEI has earmarked a portion of the VCP funding specifically for postdoc and graduate student researchers interested in launching ventures with faculty support. Contact Erika Smith, erika.smith@yale.edu, for an application and more information.


YCCI encourages faculty members and students to take advantage of the resources offered by OCR and YEI. Such new funding opportunities as SBIR and STTR are especially important in light of shrinking NIH budgets. These programs challenge investigators to think about their research in new ways that have the potential to speed the development of new therapies.