Will Metcalf, J.D., is the associate vice president of research development & strategic partnerships at the University of Louisville’s Office of Research and Innovation. Metcalf is also a professor in the Brandeis School of Law, where he is the director of the Entrepreneurship Law Clinic. Another one of Metcalf’s notable roles is leading the office’s recently launched UofL New Ventures, which supports the university’s research-backed startups. We recently spoke to him about this exciting new initiative.
Tell me about UofL New Ventures.
Metcalf: UofL New Ventures, within the UofL Office of Research and Innovation, is an expansion of work we’ve been doing for a while to support startups backed by UofL research and technology. We’ve had a lot of success getting new technologies and inventions to market, and with this new office, we will accelerate that work.
UofL New Ventures works closely with UofL Innovation and Commercialization, which is responsible for managing the university’s research-backed intellectual property (IP) and making decisions about its licensing. The new office will help potential founders and new startups find IP with market potential and connect with resources at UofL for further development.
Aside from IP, what support do you provide startups?
Metcalf: UofL has a thriving innovation and entrepreneurship ecosystem with lots of resources that can help companies launch and grow. For example, we can connect you with UofL researchers or facilities for R&D. You can get a crash course in entrepreneurship through our LaunchIt training bootcamp. We can help you find mentors. UofL has several innovation grant funding programs, or we can help you find space to set up your business right on campus.
How does UofL New Ventures tie into your other entrepreneurship efforts?
Metcalf: Like I said, we’ve built a lot of momentum in launching startups at UofL and helping to build our regional entrepreneurship economy. One big example is our collaboration with the Louisville Healthcare CEO Council and Amplify to support regional startup development and success. That collaboration has allowed us to connect inventions and startups with larger companies and launch UofL’s Entrepreneurs-in-Residence program, which brings seasoned founders to UofL to help guide technologies to market.
UofL New Ventures will work hand-in-hand with Amplify, the Louisville Healthcare CEO Council and others to expand our impact. We also have several federally funded efforts supporting collaboration between UofL researchers and industry. For example, PRePARE is a new program funded by the Economic Development Administration to develop new technologies addressing societal problems caused by COVID-19 in partnership with community members.
We also recently launched a new program called AIM-3DP, which is focused on helping businesses leverage disruptive technology. All of these efforts and more are supported by the UofL New Ventures.
Why is this work so important?
Metcalf: It is a lot of work to start a company, but founders and innovators who are willing to transform ideas into products or services have the chance to grow the economy for us all. Inventions generated at UofL can improve the way we work, the way we live and literally save lives. But it is not enough for UofL to develop the best technology; moving a cutting-edge idea from a university lab into the world requires strategy and partnerships.
This past year, UofL was awarded 80 new patents. We hold IP in medicine, software, and renewable energy, to name just a few. By connecting those technologies with startups, we can work directly with founders to get them to market, where they can help people.
What is an example of one of these companies?
Metcalf: We’ve had several successful startups come out of UofL. There are some cool examples, including a new company built on a UofL technology for producing low-calorie sweetener and bio-coal from spent distillers’ grain and another working on a tool for measuring employee engagement.
We’ve even had a few startups go public or be acquired. This year, one of our cell therapy startups, Talaris Therapeutics, completed a $150 million IPO — after raising $100 million in 2019 and another $115 million in 2020. The company is built on a technology invented at UofL by researcher Suzanne Ildstad, who founded the company as CEO and now serves as its chief scientific officer.
Talaris is working on a cell therapy that could help transplant recipients avoid immunosuppression drugs, which they would otherwise need for the rest of their lives. The first patient who was successfully treated has now been off immunosuppressants (and as a result, avoided the associated side effects) for more than a decade. All of this goes back to the potential impact of these technologies — by working with founders, we can get these discoveries out to people like that patient. UofL research can help improve and save lives.
Are you looking for new companies and founders to collaborate on new ventures?
Metcalf: Always! If you are interested in getting involved, especially if you have a health sciences or manufacturing background, then reach out to me. No need for a warm introduction – just ask.