Colorado State University establishes more startups per $100 million in research spending than the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Harvard University and Stanford University.
The stunning statistic came out during a CSU Ventures dinner late last month, where an audience in a Hilton conference room sat rapt as the organization's president, Todd Headley, shared it during the meal. The group was gathered to honor CSU inventors and promising companies.
A technology-transfer office, CSU Ventures creates 1.5 startups per $100 million in research funding, Headley said. It formed five startups in 2010, when research spending topped $300 million, according to an Association of University Technology Managers survey.
That metric also has CSU finishing ahead of some other notable institutions, including Dartmouth College and Johns Hopkins University, according to a CSU Ventures analysis of the association's survey.
"We're well above average in terms of how many startups we do based upon the size of research expenditures," Headley said.
CSU Ventures certainly does not create as many startups as an elite institution like MIT, which started 17 companies in 2010. MIT, however, reported $1.4 billion in research spending.
By comparison, the University of Colorado spent nearly $850 million and created nine startups. Johns Hopkins, with nearly $1.5 billion in research spending, started 11 companies.
At CSU, Headley said, "If you look at how big we are, we actually do pretty darn well in terms of the number of companies that we start every year."
But CSU Ventures and other universities must fight for dollars to fund such operations during an era of tight budgets.
CSU President Tony Frank stressed to the audience the importance of federal and state funding for higher education. He considers American research universities as key research and development engines that will help the nation succeed in a 21st century knowledge economy.
"Get involved in those discussions, because they're, I think, critically important not only to Colorado State University, to Northern Colorado, to our state," he told the audience. "I think they're very important to the future of America."
Besides its relative startup success, CSU Ventures has posted impressive numbers in the past five years compared with the previous five years. Inventions have more than doubled and the number of inventors nearly has doubled. Patent applications and licensing agreements have nearly tripled.
New startup companies have more than doubled from nine to 20. Licensing income – dollars from technology licensed by CSU Ventures that goes to the university and inventors – reached more than $8 million the past five years. CSU generated a little over $4 million in licensing income the previous five years.
The awards ceremony audience saw first-hand the success of individual CSU inventors. CSU Ventures awarded multiple inventors from the College of Engineering, College of Veterinary Medical and Biomedical Sciences and College of Natural Sciences for their patents. CSU Ventures also recognized two companies, SurgiReal and Advanced MicroLabs.
SurgiReal's surgical training models help veterinarian and medical students learn surgery fundamentals. The synthetic models look like real skin and organs and even simulate blood loss.
Dean Hendrickson, SurgiReal founder and director of the CSU Veterinary Teaching Hospital, credited CSU Ventures for helping the company get started. CSU Ventures "helped us to take something from an idea and move it to where we are," he said.
Another company, Advanced MicroLabs, created technology to monitor low levels of contaminants in water used in power plants. Corrosion by contaminants can lead to turbine failures that can cost hundreds of millions of dollars to replace.
CSU Ventures also honored V. "Chandra" Chandrasekar, a CSU professor of electrical and computer engineering, with the Award for Innovative Excellence. Chandrasekar collaborated with researchers, faculty and students from CSU and other universities to develop a radar that detects tornadoes earlier than current systems.
Steve Lynn covers technology for the Northern Colorado Business Report. He can be contacted at slynn@ncbr.com or 970-232-3147.