Boon Thau Loo wants people to know that his startup was born at the University of Pennsylvania‘s Computer Science department.
After conducting nearly six years of federally-funded research, Loo, 38, founded Gencore Systems this summer in hopes of bringing his own technology to market. With the help of his students, the Penn professor developed apps that allow computer networks to run more efficiently and to protect against cyber attacks.
He hopes that his startup can become a point of pride for Penn’s Computer Science department, one that hasn’t spun off any startups in recent memory, according to data from Penn’s technology transfer office.
Gencore Systems has already raised an undisclosed amount of angel funding for product development, chosen a cofounder in veteran entrepreneur C.H. Low and partnered with a California-based networking equipment manufacturer. But Loo, a native of Singapore who came to the U.S. in 1996 to attend UC Berkeley, said he knows this is just the beginning.
“The technology is just the starting point,” he said. “There is still a long journey ahead in terms of bringing it to market.”
Below, Loo talks to us about building a startup at Penn and if he’ll ever leave the school to become a full-time entrepreneur.
Did you come to Penn with the idea of doing research and turning it into a startup?
No, it kind of just happened. Our number one goal is to educate students and to do research that can advance the state of technology. That should be the starting point of any research that you do. However, in order to have long-term impact, it’s important to [turn research into] technologies that can be adopted and used in the real world.
In order for research to really stand the test of time, beyond academic publications, I think we really need to take technology outside the doors of the university.
You’re a Penn professor who’s building a startup. What does that mean to you? Why do it here?
It’s important to me to locate the company here because I would like Gencore to be a success story not just for myself, but also for our Computer Science Department. I would like the company to be able to rival the best of Silicon Valley.
My vision is to develop a high-tech company so that we can give our students a reason to be proud and pave the way for more faculty members to commercialize their research. We have a lot of exciting research here and there’s tremendous opportunity.
Would you ever leave your job at Penn to pursue Gencore Systems?
My first love is academia, so I view my job at Penn as long-term. Often you see professors going on leave or sabbatical to get a startup off the ground, and once they get funding, professional management takes over. But I see [my work with Gencore] as an extension of my university job.
What do you think about Penn’s tech transfer history in terms of software and IT?
As far as tech transfer, Penn undergrads have done very well. Like Invite Media, some of the founders were in my classes.
Anything in particular that you’ve learned while working on a startup?
Even if you are successful in academia and research, it’s important that at a very early stage of the company to get a mentor and business partner. [Taking on serial entrepreneur] C.H. Low was the best decision I’ve made so far.
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