Cultivating companies: 14 start-ups sprout from CMU research

Google. Microsoft. The mere mention of these names conjures up images of ticker tape, office space, and 40-something executives with salaries rivaling the gross domestic product of Spain.

But aside from being the economic and technological powerhouses that they are today, these companies share one distinct and fundamental trait: They both began as start-ups.

In the 2006 fiscal year alone, Carnegie Mellon University gave rise to no less than 14 start-up companies born from university technology, according to an August 21 press release.

The focus of these companies runs the gamut from hard sciences to entertainment technology and highlights the research taking place right under the nose of Carnegie Mellon’s campus.

The science behind start-ups

By definition, start-up companies are recently formed, comparatively high-risk enterprises that start off with low investing capital.

Despite their low capital, many of these young companies still project very high returns on their investments.

It is this factor that draws venture capitalists and angel investors into the start-up realm. Many offer to finance these fledgling businesses in return for an equity stake and large returns on their initial investments.

Generating a million-dollar idea involves investigating a million-dollar question. Universities are a breeding ground for thinkers and innovators with access to new and relevant technologies. It is typical that start-ups use many college campuses across the world as springboards into their relevant industries.

Current start-ups

GreenOx is one Carnegie Mellon start-up company, a green chemistry company that is developing a market for a group of oxidation catalysts called TAML catalysts.

The catalysts perform a host of oxidation reactions. These reactions are responsible for destroying a lot of big pollutants. Some of the other start-up companies originally started on CMU property.

Situated alongside the Monongahela River lies Carnegie Mellon’s Entertainment Technology Center (ETC). Developers at the ETC have long since ditched their lab coats and pipettes for animatronics and joysticks. As a result, the ETC was the point of creation for many entertainment-technology-based start-ups.

The ETC has been hailed as an innovations giant in its own right, creating lifelike video games that tackle national and international problems. The center has already given rise to six start-up companies, the latest being Sim Ops, a company specializing in training-simulation games.

Sim Ops is involved in the development of HazMat Hot Zone, a training simulator for firefighters that has been incorporated into the New York City Fire Department’s training program.

The research at Carnegie Mellon is so prolific that an enterprise has emerged solely to fund, market, and protect university technologies.

The Carnegie Mellon Center for Technology Transfer and Enterprise Creation (CTTEC) works with companies and start-up firms interested in licensing innovations developed at Carnegie Mellon. In 2006, it launched its Enterprise Creation program, which provides additional resources and aid for start-up university companies.

One such company, Bossa Nova Concepts, worked alongside the state-funded group Innovation Works to get its foothold. Bossa Nova is a robotics company developed by Carnegie Mellon doctoral student Sarjoun Skaff.

“Carnegie Mellon’s Center for Technology Transfer and Enterprise Creation has been instrumental in allowing Bossa Nova to get on its feet,” said Skaff in a press release dated August 21.

Innovation Works provided Bossa Nova with a $24,000 grant from its Innovation Grant program.

The impact of start-ups at Carnegie Mellon

The prospect of increasingly commercializing university research has implications for Carnegie Mellon.
Already, the university spinoffs are contributing significantly to the technology sector of western Pennsylvania.

Perhaps more exciting is the prospect of Carnegie Mellon research crossing state and even national boundaries.

The ETC has a game in development that focuses on a peaceful resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and the center already opened a branch in Adelaide, Australia.

From behind the steel walls of Pittsburgh, Pa., Carnegie Mellon University has successfully given birth to a myriad of vibrant and breakthrough start-up companies.