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The episode: Christy Wyskiel, who leads Johns Hopkins Tech Ventures (JHTV), talks about Hopkins’ startup ecosystem building with Khuram Zaman, founder of D.C.-based Fifth Tribe. It’s an episode of the nationally focused podcast Campfire.
Why it’s interesting: It brings perspective to hear a local tech leader explain what they do for an audience beyond the city. Plus, Wyskiel recounts the fast-moving recent history of JHTV and the growth of tech transfer in the university. In the midst of the many launches and ribbon cutting we’ve attended, here’s a chance to learn about why it’s all coming together, and understand the breadth of resources that the city’s prominent research university is putting behind the commercialization push. Stay for the shoutouts of local companies like Protenus and ClearMask.
A few takeaways:
- Investing in Baltimore: As an institutional investor, Wyskiel recognized the talent coming out of Baltimore, but found there weren’t a pipeline of companies growing in the city. Becoming an entrepreneur and operator in order to grow such startups, she found the missing ingredients were the ecosystem connecting points, like space and community connections. So in 2012, she wrote a white paper about what Baltimore needed to better help entrepreneurs at Hopkins. She shared the findings with Johns Hopkins President Ronald Daniels. While she was at first skeptical about whether he would listen to her, Daniels ended up bringing her on a special advisor to build that infrastructure. Through JHTV, which Wyskiel now leads, the university has built out those startup connecting points. Under the banner of FastForward, it has office and lab space for companies, and has built a network and educational opportunities around companies.
- So, what is tech transfer? It can be wonky, but tech transfer is a key building block to take basic research and inventions, patenting it, and turning it into a product. Now it’s typical for universities like Johns Hopkins to have a tech transfer office. But Wyskiel said the key for this was the Bayh-Dole Act of 1980, which laid the legal groundwork for universities owning and patenting the tech developed in its labs. Now, JHTV is working with faculty and researchers on 100+ patents and licensing deals a year, and the university spends $8 million a year to do so. A full-time team member with JHTV is also introducing ideas that come out of the university to the investment community, and works with entrepreneurs to prepare them for the investment process. Startups coming out of the university are averaging roughly $500 million a year in VC funding, up from less than $100 million in the decade before JHTV was created. And the university’s National Science Foundation-affiliated I-Corps program is leading cohorts of entrepreneurs through customer discovery. It’s how the university helps tech research strengths in robotics, energy and voice software get out for use in the wider world.
- Eyes on the skyline: Wyskiel said two things get her out of bed in the morning: bringing great ideas from Hopkins students to market, and building the Baltimore ecosystem. “I will not be satisfied until the skyline Baltimore — post-industrial Baltimore that is absolutely on the rise — until that skyline is filled with the names of tech and biotech companies coming out of Johns Hopkins. But we can’t do that alone.” To build the network that will help make that happen, she has connected with angel investors and family offices who will provide early-stage funding, and exited entrepreneurs in the network who will serve as mentors to companies. It has also meant supporting entrepreneurs around the city beyond Hopkins, which it does through programs like the Social Innovation Lab.