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Investors meet opportunities at SkySong forum

December 14, 2009

Several of the world’s premier research universities and hospitals – as well as many top venture capitalists – connected at SkySong, the ASU Scottsdale Innovation Center, for a one-day showcase of key opportunities and information exchange on Dec. 9.

Co-hosted by ASU SkySong and Arizona Technology Enterprises (AzTE), the University and Global Technology Showcase kicked off the 2009 Invest Southwest Capital Conference and featured universities, research hospitals and promising global companies presenting their selected investment opportunities to an audience of investors and industry experts. Venture capital firms represented included Kleiner Perkins Caufield and Byers, Khosla Ventures, Bay City Capital, Redpoint Ventures, Sevin Rosen Funds, Polaris Ventures, ARCH Venture Partners and DrapFisher Jurvetson.

The VC firms in attendance represented more than $15 billion in capital under management while the presenting universities and research institutions had collectively ‘spun out’ more than 100 new companies in the past year.

“The Showcase was a unique event that brought together seasoned entrepreneurs, investors and university licensing professionals all under one roof,” said Daniel Dardani, technology licensing officer for the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), who presented some of the new technologies developed by MIT scientists. “It provided the perfect blend of individuals for sparking focused and exuberant technology transfer discussions.”

Case Cortese, licensing associate for the California Institute of Technology (Caltech), agreed with Dardani’s assessment. “Caltech was excited to participate in the Showcase,” Cortese said. “It was a wonderful event that brought together top-quality cutting-edge technology and top-quality experienced investors from all over the country, making connections which are fundamental to the process of innovation. AzTE and ASU SkySong recognize that fact and provided a great forum for making those connections.”

University participants also included ASU, Boston University, University of Pennsylvania, Harvard, University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, University of Southern California, University of Minnesota, University of Utah, University of Arizona and Thunderbird, as well as Ireland’s Dublin City University. Research hospitals participating in the event were City of Hope and the Mayo Clinic. Several global companies from Mexico, Brazil, Ireland and the United Kingdom also presented in a fast-paced forum of what is known in the venture capital community as "elevator pitches." 

"The conference was a refreshing mix of new ideas and perspectives,” said John Swartley, senior director and head of new ventures for the University of Pennsylvania. “I'm optimistic that it will help us strengthen existing relationships and forge new alliances with investors, other universities and potential corporate partners."

The VCs appreciated the opportunity to hear from such a wide variety of universities in a setting – ASU SkySong – known for promoting innovation and entrepreneurship.

“This Showcase offered a very efficient mechanism to review recent university-originated success stories, as well as new and emerging technologies that each university and region selected as the most compelling,” said Draper Fisher Jurvetson venture partner Russ Lebovitz.

“The opportunity to meet many university officers at a single place is very beneficial,” said Nety Krishna, chief technology officer and venture partner with Redpoint Ventures. “It allows us to get a big picture of the trends and specific university focus areas while learning about the constraints for effective tech transfer.”

“Events like the Showcase are exactly the right approach – it’s a great use of my time to quickly see the basics of many innovations, with the opportunity to follow up later,” added David Wells, partner at Kleiner Perkins Caufield and Byers.

Matthew McCooe, founding managing partner of Chart Venture Partners, agreed.  “We will be contacting a number of the institutions presenting at the Showcase to review technologies we found to be of interest and with potential commercial value.”

“This was a unique meeting with an incredibly high percent of VCs as attendees,” said Joe Hofmeister, technology marketing manager for the University of Minnesota. “It provided a great opportunity to highlight multiple technologies to a large group of financiers, and to discuss business plans with seasoned executives.

“In fact, I was able to schedule follow-up meetings with three VCs to come to Minnesota to review our start-ups and spinoffs.”

“We are pleased to have been able to convene at SkySong an impressive group of top-tier VCs and other investors, along with several of the most active universities in the country in firm formation and technology transfer,” said Augustine Cheng, managing director of AzTE.  “And we are delighted that several VCs have expressed interest in visiting ASU early next year to learn more about our opportunities in clean technology and the life sciences.”

AzTE is a non-profit organization that operates as the exclusive intellectual property management and technology transfer organization for ASU and its research enterprise. Comprised of industry and university veterans, AzTE brings together ASU’s researchers and industry partners to transform discoveries into marketable products and services, taking innovation out of the lab and into the commercial marketplace.

Several of the VCs were not only at the Showcase to hear the presentations, but also to participate in two separate town hall discussions covering a wide variety of topics, including the state of innovation and investment in new technologies. They also answered questions from the audience.

“Innovation is human nature,” said Jonathan Lim, a principal of Polaris Venture Partners, when asked if the business and technology environment is still conducive to new ideas. “It isn’t going to stop.”

“For those who have money to invest, it’s a good time right now,” said Ralph Taylor-Smith, general partner of Battelle Ventures. “There are good technologies out there and the buy-in is low.”

“It’s good to be global in your venture capital approach,” said Walter Locher, senior adviser for Emerald Technology Ventures, when asked about investment opportunities outside of the United States. “What ASU is doing today, bringing in these global companies to present to us, that’s a good approach.”

“ASU SkySong works hard each day to bring business opportunities to Arizona and to connect start-up companies with university resources,” said Julia Rosen, ASU associate vice president for Innovation and Entrepreneurship. “This Showcase was a tremendous extension of those efforts and we were very excited to bring these opportunities and investors together.”