Northwestern invests $14 million toward fostering innovation, business culture

Stavros Agorakis, Reporter

Northwestern has invested $14 million in creating its first-ever entrepreneurship funds to support University-based student and faculty ventures, further incentivizing the growth of NU’s business community.

The $10 million N.XT Fund and $4 million NUseeds Fund build on the University’s recent efforts to promote innovation and idea-building, said Alicia Loffler, executive director at the Innovation and New Ventures Office. N.XT mostly focuses on funding early-stage faculty ventures, and NUseeds, partly funded by the “We Will” campaign, targets student ideas, she said.

“Our social contract is that we have to move our innovations to society, to the public,” Loffler said. “There was a demand by students and faculty that really want to get their ideas to the market, and it’s very hard to prove the concept of those technologies.”

N.XT Fund grants will be awarded annually, with each investment ranging from $50,000 to $200,000. However, to be eligible, each venture’s intellectual property must be owned by the University and commercialize NU-owned intellectual property.

“The stipulation is that (the venture) has to be owned by Northwestern,” said Nick Maull, assistant director of new ventures at the INVO. “So you have to be essentially working on an idea that is spun out of Northwestern.”

The NUseeds Fund will invest in student startups with each award ranging from $10,000 to $100,000. To be eligible, ventures must have participated in The Garage Residency Program and previously received money from institutional investors or an accelerator program.

These criteria exist to ensure the financial soundness of the ideas in order for the $4 million to not burn out quickly, said Melissa Crounse, executive director of The Garage.

“If the University invests in a company, it takes a stake,” Crounse said. “If that company ends up doing very well, that money will renew to the NUseeds account and will be reinvested in other Northwestern companies.”

The two funds came out of necessity after past technologies developed at the University lacked the financial resources to push them forward, Maull said. The N.XT and NUseed grants aim to avoid ventures potentially failing and falling into the “valley of death,” he said.

The first round of applications for the N.XT Fund are due April 23 and finalists will present their innovations to a panel June 2. Rolling applications for NUseeds will open Friday.

“We’re really excited about this,” Maull said. “We think it’s going to help our faculty and our innovators tremendously and I think it will be exciting moving forward. We have a great vision for how we’re going to see this grow over the next few years.”

McCormick senior Akshat Thirani, who runs the startup Amper and participated in both an accelerator program and The Garage Residency Program, said the funds will create more opportunities for the business culture to grow at NU.

“It’s definitely great for teams coming out of Northwestern to have this funding,” Thirani said. “I think that this might create a launchpad for student startups coming right out of college.”

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