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May 24, 2023 | Tom Ballard

Big dollars for three Vanderbilt-initiated start-ups

The new Discovery Vanderbilt initiative invests $1.25 million in HeroWear, IDBiologics, and Virtuoso Surgical Inc.

In what was described as “the first wave” of investments in Vanderbilt University-initiated start-ups, the institution has announced a commitment of $1.25 million to three new ventures tied to faculty members.

The three, what they do, their faculty connections, and the funding they received from the new Discovery Vanderbilt initiative are:

  • HeroWear is a start-up that develops wearable assist devices, called exosuits, to alleviate back strain and injuries, particularly for individuals who are engaged in heavy and repetitive lifting ($250,000 in seed funding). It was developed by Karl Zelik, Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering, Biomedical Engineering, and Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation.
  • IDBiologics develops human monoclonal antibodies for the treatment and prevention of major infectious diseases including SARS-CoV-2, influenza, and respiratory syncytial and Zika viruses ($500,000 in seed funding). The company was founded by James Crowe, Director of the Vanderbilt Vaccine Center.
  • Virtuoso Surgical Inc. has developed a robotic surgery system that enables physicians to overcome the limitations of traditional endoscopes ($500,000 for a Series A round). The system was developed by Robert Webster, Richard A. Schroeder Professor of Mechanical Engineering and Associate Professor of Medicine and Urology, and Duke Herrell, Director of Robotics at the Vanderbilt University Medical Center (VUMC) and Professor of Urology, Biomedical and Mechanical Engineering.

Discovery Vanderbilt is described as building on two other programs – Opportunity Vanderbilt (a financial assistance initiative) and Destination Vanderbilt (faculty recruitment) – “by committing major resources to dramatically increase faculty, student and staff engagement and success in pursuing bold new ideas through disciplined, rigorous inquiry.” It has three specific outcomes:

  • Engagement which translates into increasing the number of faculty and students who can pursue groundbreaking new ideas through rigorous, disciplined inquiry;
  • Reach which involves developing partnerships that allow Vanderbilt to extend the impact of its research and innovation locally, nationally, and globally along with “a dramatic increase in multiple forms of tech transfer”; and
  • Funding, which means not only expanding the amounts but also diversifying the sources of dollars for research and innovation, “maximizing the university’s ability to secure new, larger, higher-impact awards.”

In making the announcement, C. Cybele Raver, Provost and Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs, said, “Funding groundbreaking faculty-led start-ups like HeroWear, IDBiologics, and Virtuoso is central to the purpose of Discover Vanderbilt and allows us to extend the impact of our research and innovation.”

The program is sponsored by the Offices of the Chancellor and Provost and led by the latter. The working committee that reviews and approves investments in start-ups is led by the Vice Chancellor for Finance, Information Technology, and Chief Financial Officer, Vice Provost for Research and Information, and VUMC’s Executive Vice President for Research and Chief Scientific Officer.

Recommendations came from the Center for Technology Transfer and Commercialization and The Wond’ry.

Click here to read the Vanderbilt news release.

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