Inaugural award celebrates faculty entrepreneurs
The Faculty Innovation Awards presented by Yale Ventures recognized twelve Yale faculty who have recently established startups and raised at least $1 million in investment capital in the last year.
Lily Dorstewitz, Contributing Photographer
More and more Yale faculty are dipping their toes in the world of entrepreneurship.
Yale Ventures, a University initiative launched earlier this year to promote entrepreneurship, celebrated the recipients of its inaugural Faculty Innovation Awards at the Greenberg Center on Monday. The award honors faculty members who have launched a new startup and raised at least $1 million in investment capital within the past year.
Yale administrators, deans and other faculty members presented the awards. The majority of the recognized startups were biotechnology or therapeutic companies, with five out of the 12 Innovation Awards going to faculty members who hold medical doctorates.
“We wanted to recognize faculty who are taking the extra effort, in addition to their day job, to launch a startup company,” said Josh Geballe, managing director of Yale Ventures. “It takes a tremendous amount of extra work, work that is often not appreciated and involves significant risk.”
According to Geballe, Yale Ventures is a hub for entrepreneurship and innovation at Yale, providing resources to support new startups founded by faculty and students. The organization supports the Tsai Center for Innovative Thinking and provides guidance for faculty entrepreneurs, among many other activities.
The event follows a broader effort from the University to increase support for faculty innovation. Earlier this year, the University formally announced the Yale Ventures initiative, which came after 11 Yale startups raised $53.3 million in 2021.
One of the honorees, John Krystal, explained that the event recognized the “incredible research” that is being conducted at Yale and its potential to be developed into patents, licenses and new companies. Krystal is a professor of psychiatry, neuroscience and psychology at the Yale School of Medicine and a co-founder of Freedom Biosciences, which develops new treatments for depression and related disorders.
“We’ve been fortunate to see a lot of startups come out of Yale in the past decade that have grown, brought new therapeutics and other products to the market and driven job creation.” Geballe said. “At the same time, we think we’re just getting started. We think with more support and investment for our faculty, we should be able to support more faculty innovation and have an even greater impact.”
Sterling professors Akiko Iwasaki and Anna Pyle were also honored for their startup RIGImmune.
According to Pyle, the company is developing new molecules to control the “innate” immune system, which is our fast-acting “first-responder” against pathogen infection. Unlike the “adaptive” immune system, which can take several days to develop antibodies, the “innate” system reacts within minutes, initiating a powerful antiviral response.
“I feel gratitude to Yale Ventures for their generous support of our inventions,” Pyle wrote in an email to the News. “The work of patenting ideas, protecting them, and then forming a company around them is extremely challenging and it would never have happened without the commitment and time of our Yale Ventures colleagues.”
Pyle added that the awards ceremony brought together many people who would not ordinarily meet in person, or who have worked on opposite sides of the table to negotiate positions and business terms.
Professor of molecular, cellular, and developmental biology Craig Crews —another honoree — explained that the alignment of founder-friendly policies and recent initiatives in the innovation space has created “an exciting momentum” for the Yale entrepreneurial community.
Crews’ startup, Siduma Therapeutics, is a New Haven-based biotechnology company focused on developing a new approach to controlling disease-causing proteins.
In addition to Crews, the event recognized multiple startup founders within the biotechnology sphere, an industry that surged during the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2021, U.S. and European biotechs raised a combined $36.83 billion – a record total – according to Silicon Valley Bank.
“Because we have such a large medical school and so much research in the life sciences, that has been where we have historically seen most startups launch,” Geballe said. “Yale has been a real leader in the biosciences.”
In addition to Crews, Pyle, Iwasaki, and Krystal, other honorees included Ranjit Bindra, Seth Herzon, Alan Anticevic, John Murray, Demetrios Braddock, Farren Isaacs, Sidi Chen and Aaron Ring.
The central office of Yale Ventures is located at 433 Temple St.