Alacrity Semiconductors, a startup aiming to make devices like cell phones more energy-efficient, was awarded a federal grant in late December that will ultimately total over $1 million.
Founded in May by James Lin SOM ’15 and engineering professor Tso-Ping Ma, Alacrity Semiconductors will base its product on Ma’s research, Ma said. Xiao Sun, an engineering postdoc who has worked on research for the company, said he does not know of any other research group in the United States tackling energy efficiency with this same technology.
The grant comes from the federal government’s National Science Foundation and Small Business Innovation Research program, which award startups money to help bring their products to market. Alacrity Semiconductors is now receiving $150,000 that will be used to help develop the product in the pre-market stage over the next six months. Sun said that in this stage, the team will work on creating a market-friendly version of their lab model, meaning that it will abide by industry standards and be appealing to the public. After that point, the company will be invited to apply for a second phase of funding, which in the past has provided up to $750,000.
“The grant bridges the gap where you can take stuff from the lab to the commercial market place, and that costs a few million dollars,” Lin said.
Ma said his involvement with Alacrity Semiconductors has shown him how the University has changed its approach to faculty involvement in entrepreneurship. When Ma first came to Yale several decades ago, he said, the University community did not recognize the value of entrepreneurship in relation to the pursuit of knowledge. Now they are beginning to realize that entrepreneurial ventures can be a vehicle to use that knowledge to benefit society, he said.
Similarly, Jeff Hong SOM ’15, who owns a technology startup, said he feels the entrepreneurial culture at SOM is relatively new and that SOM has adjusted its curriculum to meet this new student demand. In particular, Hong added, he has found SOM’s entrepreneurship program, launched in April, helpful in establishing a support system for student entrepreneurs.
The Entrepreneurship Program is designed to manage Yale’s new curriculum in entrepreneurship, support students with entrepreneurial ambitions and work with other organizations around campus — such as the Yale Entrepreneurial Institute — to encourage a culture of entrepreneurship on Yale’s campus, Director of Entrepreneurial Programs Kyle Jensen said. Jensen said all of the new entrepreneurship classes at the SOM have been oversubscribed, demonstrating the magnitude of student demand.
Bridgette Farrer SOM ’15 said she thinks it is necessary for the SOM to offer entrepreneurial courses in order to demonstrate its support for student entrepreneurs.
“Historically working on a venture and being a student were at odds, and it’s not that way anymore,” she said. “[the SOM] wants to support student entrepreneurs and let their ventures be part of their schoolwork.”
Though Hong said he has found the entrepreneurial resources at Yale extremely helpful, he said he does not know if the SOM will ever compete with Stanford or MIT because the types of startups students are founding at those schools are very different than those at Yale. Though Hong founded a technology startup, he said most startups founded by the SOM students are not tech-focused and are usually more closely concentrated on social responsibility.
Lin said the entrepreneurial community across the University can feel disjointed, and he would appreciate networking events between SOM entrepreneurs and those in other schools at Yale, such as Yale College.
Jensen agreed that entrepreneurs outside of the SOM should also be included in the SOM’s activities, and he said the program plans to further integrate undergraduates. He added the existing lack of networking is due mostly to physical separation between students in different schools within Yale.
“I think not enough [networking] happens for very natural reasons and that is we’re over in [Evans Hall], and if you’re an MBA student you spend your whole day in this building,” he said. “We do as many things as we can to change that.”
In addition, Jensen said there are plans to expand the faculty in entrepreneurship at the SOM so that more courses can be taught. He noted that peer business schools, such as Stanford and MIT, offer anywhere from 50 to 100 courses in entrepreneurship, whereas SOM offers about 12. To increase the courses offered, Jensen said the SOM plans to expand its faculty for entrepreneurial courses, though exact numbers for the years ahead have not yet been decided.
SOM Associate Dean Anjani Jain said that though the SOM’s entrepreneurial programming might not look exactly like that of schools that are much larger than the SOM, he hopes that Yale will reach a proportional level of entrepreneurial activity as its peer institutions.
The SOM student-run Entrepreneurship Club has 330 members.
Correction, Jan. 16: Due to an editing error, a previous version of this article misspelled the name of Professor Tso-Ping Ma. It also misstated the amount of money offered by the grant’s second phase of fundraising.