A $1 million seed fund is being launched at the University of Wisconsin, with an initial aim of nudging its Alzheimer’s disease research a little closer to the bedside.
Half the seed funding comes from donations to the Wisconsin Technology Innovation Institute (Wi2), a UW-affiliated nonprofit; this is matched by a $500,000 contribution from the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. The Wi2 plans to raise an additional $1.5 million for the fund.
The fund will jumpstart about five companies with research from UW’s Wisconsin Alzheimer’s Institute, doling out anywhere from $50,000 to $400,000 apiece, said Lisa Johnson, WEDC vice president of entrepreneurship and innovation.
The impetus for launching the fund with an Alzheimer’s focus is UW’s robust longitudinal data on the disease: The Wisconsin Alzheimer’s Institute has tracked the genetics and clinical presentation of the disease among more than 1,500 individuals since 2001. In that process, UW researchers have identified a number of Alzheimer’s biomarkers, and are using the knowledge amassed to develop therapies to prevent or delay onset of the disease, Johnson said.
The fund’s backers are realistic that such upstarts tend to have a high failure rate – they plan to fund Alzheimer’s research too nascent for angel investors and venture capitalists.
“We’re realistic that many of the companies we fund aren’t going to make it,” Johnson said. “At least we’re trying to help seed commercialization efforts.”
The funding to the new companies could come as equity, a grant or debt financing, and any returns will be fed back into the seed fund, Johnson said.
The Wi2 fund will begin accepting applications this summer. Though it is debuting with a focus on Alzheimer’s disease, it plans to soon expand into other prevalent diseases like diabetes and cancer.