If you are interested in exploring opportunities to see your campus research have impact on the planet, through a start-up, industrial, non-profit or governmental collaboration, please reach out to Stephanie Yanchinski, the RSI Director of Entrepreneurial Programs, to see how we can help.
The 2019 commitment from Stewart and Lynda Resnick to expand the Resnick Sustainability Institute includes a mandate to connect the fundamental insights gained in research to implementation for real-world impact. The RSI believes that advancing scientific breakthroughs towards practical outcomes is a critical step in addressing the challenges of climate change and sustainability with the urgency that now is vitally needed.
Caltech's unique approach to science and engineering research means approaching the process of implementing solutions with an expansive definition of entrepreneurship: thinking creatively in ambiguous environments, making and analyzing observations, identifying critical problems, and developing validated solutions and pathways to meet these needs. These learned skills can equally be applied to research, (especially translational), management and applied engineering within industry, policy setting, investing in technology, or starting a company.
Accordingly, RSI continues to develop a platform of support, useful tools and resources, adapted to Caltech researchers that help them identify translational opportunities for their innovations, including starting new ventures. A key objective is also to inform scientists and engineers about the broader world of cleantech and sustainability, including the interconnections between economics, government policy and political and social interactions. Understanding this multifaceted intersection with technology leads to discovering the "white spaces" where their innovation can flourish.
This foundational effort is headed by Stephanie Yanchinski, RSI's Director of Entrepreneurial Programs. She believes that creating an integrated approach will foster the kind of camaraderie and powerful idea exchange essential to solving sustainability challenges effectively and quickly. A trained scientist, with a history of successfully helping university entrepreneurs launch companies, Stephanie works closely with Caltech students and researchers starting cleantech companies, providing mentorship, formal and informal education on the startup process through webinars and training programs, a large network of channel partners and leads to financial sources that can provide critical feedback and support for our early-stage entrepreneurs. These services form the conceptual core of a phased program that works hand in hand with would-be entrepreneurs from their initial inquiry to raising funds and deploying commercial prototypes.
Key programs currently underpinning this effort are the Rocket Fund and ZAP NSF I-CorpsTM.
RSI already has a history of starting new ventures through the Rocket Fund, a member supported granting pool that helps academic innovators turn their technologies into commercial realities through education, financial support, and mentoring. With partners drawn from industry, the fund awards grants to bridge the so-called "Valley of Death", after university support ends, but before significant funding from government agencies, corporate partners and investors kicks in. Aimed at accelerating the development of functional prototypes and early customer pilots and demonstrations, the Rocket Fund impacts cleantech and sustainability through its successful companies. Launched in 2015, the program has provided more than $1M in awards to 37 young companies that went on to attract more than $100M in follow on funding.
Read more about the creation of the Rocket Fund and the five Caltech companies that have benefitted, as well as RSI's translational vision here. Visit the Rocket Fund website to learn more about the grantees or to apply.
ZAP NSF I-CorpsTM
Developed in 2015 by the NSF-funded Innovation-Node Los Angeles (IN-LA), ZAP is an entrepreneurial education program aimed at helping Caltech scientists and engineers make the transition from lab to the outside commercial world. ZAP workshops are returning to the Caltech campus starting in 2021, overseen by RSI in partnership with Caltech's Office of Technology Transfer and Corporate Partnerships. Starting in 2022, ZAP will be partially supported through the 2021 NSF Innovation Corps ("I-Corps") Hubs initiative, forming the new operational backbone of the National Innovation Network.
Offered as 2-day workshops ZAP is based on the Lean LaunchPad curriculum pioneered by Stanford University. Participants are taught the basics of proposing a business opportunity in the form of a "hypothesis" about a need in the market, and how to test the hypothesis. Teams that complete this course and receive instructor endorsement may qualify for NSF's I-Corps program which includes a $50k grant for customer discovery. Teams that complete the national program have a higher rate of receiving SBIR grants and investment.
Available to students, faculty and post docs, the ZAP program helps answer key questions such as "is entrepreneurship right for me?" And "how can my technology be translated commercially?" Read more information about ZAP and how to apply here.
Director of Entrepreneurial Programs, RSI