VCU celebrates creativity and entrepreneurship at annual VCU Innovates reception

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Virginia Commonwealth University honored university innovators for their creativity, curiosity and discoveries at the annual VCU Innovates reception Nov. 17. 

The event was hosted by VCU Innovation Gateway, a university resource that encourages commercialization of university inventions and supports research through collaborative agreements. The office is responsible for commercializing VCU research and enhancing the overall culture of innovation and entrepreneurship at VCU. 

The number of invention disclosures at VCU grew by more than 40 percent this past year to a record 134 inventions. Innovation Gateway also reported significant growth in licensing deals, patents filed, collaboration agreements and industry engagements. 

“VCU Innovation Gateway has had a remarkable year,” said VCU President Michael Rao, Ph.D. “They are moving VCU inventions into the marketplace to help people quickly, while simultaneously fostering a culture of innovation and entrepreneurship at the university and promoting regional economic development.” 

At the event, VCU Innovation Gateway executive director Ivelina Metcheva, Ph.D., made an offer to the room of more than 100 faculty, staff, students, inventors and entrepreneurs. 

“You continue to provide the innovation,” she said. “And we will continue to provide the gateway to guide your path toward commercialization and market success.” 

In the past three years, VCU Innovation Gateway facilitated successful applications for more than 20 external proof-of-concept grants that resulted in almost $1.4 million in funding for VCU researchers. That success led to the creation of the VCU Commercialization Fund, which is funded through the university’s Quest Innovation Fund. The goal of the internal VCU proof-of-concept fund is to de-risk VCU inventions and make them available more quickly to the public in the form of new products or services. In the past year, there have been two rounds of applications for the VCU Commercialization Fund, with more than 40 applications in each round. A total of nine grants and $300,000 in funding was awarded last year by an external review panel to support faculty projects in the range of $15,000 to $50,000. 

Navigating the hurdles that stand in the way of taking it to market is the real challenge.

“Developing the idea for a product is the easy part. Navigating the hurdles that stand in the way of taking it to market is the real challenge,” said Richard Marconi, Ph.D., professor of microbiology and immunology at VCU School of Medicine.

Marconi was honored with the Billy R. Martin Award for Innovation during this year’s event. Martin, Ph.D., who died in 2008, was the former chair of the School of Medicine’s Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology. In addition to his role as VCU faculty, Martin was a world-renowned neuropharmacologist and educator who conducted ground-breaking translational research in substance abuse.

“The recognition that this award brings serves as a motivating force that drives me and everyone in my lab to approach every day of research with excitement and commitment,” Marconi said.

Earlier this year, a canine Lyme disease vaccine that Marconi helped develop became available for purchase by veterinary offices. Marconi had been developing the vaccine in his lab at VCU since 2005 and it was exclusively licensed by VCU Innovation Gateway to Zoetis for use in dogs in 2011. Zoetis is the world’s largest producer of medicine and vaccines for companion animals. The vaccine was licensed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture in January and made available to veterinarians soon after. 

“Rich’s research celebrates the legacy established by Billy Martin and others who create new knowledge and constantly challenge themselves in terms of how that knowledge can be used to benefit society and the world,” said Francis Macrina, Ph.D., VCU vice president for research and innovation. “Like the namesake of the award, Rich embodies the pursuit of world-class research and its translation to society to improve the quality of life.”


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