Carnegie Mellon and Oracle Try to Get Startups to Think Really Big

Now that Oracle has more than 138,000 employees, it’s hard to remember that four decades ago the company was a startup. That’s what Jenny Tsai-Smith, vice president of Oracle Startup for Higher Education in Oracle’s Startup Ecosystem and Accelerator team, reminded attendees as she delivered opening remarks at the recent LaunchCMU event. This annual event showcases cutting-edge research and startups from Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) and is hosted by Oracle on its campus in Redwood Shores, California

LaunchCMU brought about 200 young entrepreneurs from CMU together with business leaders and members of the investment community in Silicon Valley. The event, now in its fifth year on the Oracle campus, is produced by Carnegie Mellon’s Swartz Center for Entrepreneurship, which works to bring research innovations and promising ideas within the CMU community to the outside world.

“Some terrific entrepreneurial talent has come out of Carnegie Mellon over the years, with its great science and technology programs, but I think the school remains an untapped resource,” said alumnus and entrepreneur James R. Swartz, who donated $31 million to CMU in 2015 to support the university’s entrepreneurial activities. “I want to create a couple of great, big companies out of this center.”

Dave Mawhinney, executive director of the Swartz Center for Entrepreneurship, said it was important to hold the yearly event in the Bay Area for two big reasons. One, the area has the second largest density of CMU alumni of any community in the world, trailing only CMU’s Pittsburgh home. Second, it’s the number one ecosystem for startups in the world.

“If Carnegie Mellon is going to continue being one of the great research and technology universities, that means we have to create startups and have them meet with the investment and startup community here, so they’ll have the advantages of this wonderful ecosystem,” he said.

Oracle has recently expanded its own longstanding role as part of that ecosystem. Earlier this year, it expanded its efforts to support startups with the Oracle Scaleup Ecosystem and Oracle Startup Cloud Accelerator, two programs that aim to help startups grow through access to Oracle technology, partners, and—perhaps most importantly—its customers. Additionally, the Oracle Startup for Higher Education initiative engages with academia and entrepreneurship programs at universities worldwide, to enable a new generation of science and technology innovators. “We want to help accelerate the cloud-based research and breakthroughs that are happening all around us,” said Tsai-Smith. “In that way, Oracle and CMU share much common ground.”

While past events have focused on emerging technologies such as AI, robotics, and smart cities, organizers this year decided to cast light on CMU’s underappreciated areas of science at CMU.

“When you think of Carnegie Mellon, you often think of AI and robotics,” said Mawhinney. “CMU is actually world-class in the hard sciences as well–life sciences, physical sciences, and material sciences. We wanted to showcase this at the event.”

LaunchCMU featured 19 growth-stage scientific companies this year. Here are a few stand-outs:

  • Impact Proteomics makes sample preparation tools that take the work out of the front end of biomarker and drug discovery workflows so that researchers can get useful data faster, be more confident in their results, and ultimately get high-impact therapies and diagnostic tools to market faster.
  • LumiShield Technologies has developed a novel class of protective coatings for metal products. LumiShield coatings are attractive, resistant to wear and corrosion, and produced in a process which uses no toxic chemicals.
  • BioHybrid Solutions uses polymer technology to modify proteins to dramatically improve their stability and performance, which could be useful for catalytic chemical and pharma industry and therapeutic applications.
  • Anactisis develops selective adsorbent media and deploys engineered separation systems for the recovery of scandium and rare earth elements from unconventional sources—primarily large-volume industrial wastes. Anactisis has big goals for this technology, including shifting extractive metallurgy to more selective, decentralized and sustainable technologies, and diversifying the sources for rare earth elements sources.

Tsai-Smith said that Oracle, with its Global Startup Ecosystem programs, is looking forward to expanding the partnership with CMU through the Swartz Center for Entrepreneurship. By contributing Oracle technology plus industry connections, Oracle hopes to help companies founded by CMU students and faculty make an even bigger impact.

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