LaunchTN: University Venture Challenge Bridging the Gap
Tennessee is well stocked with colleges and universities from one end of the state to the other, and all of them are hotbeds of innovation and ideas. However, too often those ideas don’t get the exposure they deserve, because students are busy with the demands of their academic programs to consider bringing their work to the commercial market.
To help bridge that gap, many Tennessee schools have created programs to help connect on-campus innovators with mentors and financial backers from the state’s business community. Even so, many of those programs hit roadblocks around access to markets, and that’s why Launch Tennessee created the University Venture Challenge (UVC) in 2015.
Simply put, the UVC exists to highlight and increase student-led entrepreneurial ventures in the state, and then connect the best of those to Launch Tennessee’s deep network of resources. It does so by working with 10 universities and 16 different entrepreneurial competitions, with the winners of those competing in the annual statewide UVC.
In addition, up to 20 finalists in the UVC will pitch for prize money at Launch Tennessee’s annual 36|86 conference during a special session, with winners chosen in five categories:
- Commercialized Technology
- Software/Technology Enabled
- Consumer Goods
- Social Enterprise
- Idea Stage
Competitors also will be able to apply for The TENN Master Accelerator program.
All told, the UVC is a robust way for entrepreneurs at the academic level to engage with the state’s broader startup and funding communities, says Thomas Beck, executive director of Vanderbilt University’s Tech Venture Challenge, which began in 2011 and became a UVC affiliate in 2015. He also is a post-doctoral fellow working the field of metabolism.
“At the time, our challenge was a mechanism for grad and post-doctoral students to really explore a career in entrepreneurship,” Beck says, “Not all of them have ideas that they can just start commercializing, but others were working with our technology and transfer office so they could begin the commercialization process. The competition was meant to support and enhance those efforts.”
The UVC, and the campus-based competitions which feed into it, will continue to help smooth the path for academians with great innovations to get the marketplace, Beck says, and he’s got a ready-made case to prove it.
Get the Inside Scoop
Learn more about Launch Tennessee’s University Venture Challenge, including how to become a participating college or university.