Caltech: New Private Venture Funding Available to Launch Caltech Startups

Caltech’s Office of Technology Transfer and Corporate Partnership (OTTCP) has created a strategic partnership with private venture capital fund Wilson Hill Ventures to help launch new startup companies from the Institute and JPL, which Caltech manages for NASA.

Named for the streets bordering campus, Wilson Hill will provide investments alongside OTTCP’s Caltech Seed fund to help launch companies across all of the Institute’s disciplines. Funding up to several million dollars per company will translate scientific research into companies with market category-creating potential.

“Wilson Hill will provide capital and business creation expertise to advance the impact of Caltech’s science and engineering innovations,” says Fred Farina (MS ’92), chief innovation and corporate partnerships officer at Caltech. “Together, we will evaluate and facilitate startup opportunities, co-invest, and provide ongoing support to the resulting companies, with the goal of accelerating and amplifying the Institute’s societal impact.”

Wilson Hill’s goal is to fund five to 10 startups per year. The effort began in February 2021 with the funding of five companies:

Palamedrix, co-founded by Paul Rothemund (BS ’94), research professor of bioengineering, computing and mathematical sciences, and computation and neural systems, which seeks to use DNA origami to improve drug development, disease detection, and wellness monitoring.
DNATWO, co-founded by Judith Campbell, professor of chemistry and biology; and Brian Stoltz, the Victor and Elizabeth Atkins Professor of Chemistry and Heritage Medical Research Institute investigator; which uses inhibitors that block the DNA2 protein to target cancer cells and prevent their growth.
Toofon, co-founded by Mory Gharib (PhD ’83), Hans W. Liepmann Professor of Aeronautics and Bioinspired Engineering, which is developing an autonomous heavy-lift drone for logistical support for firefighting and supply-chain applications.
Flion, co-founded by Kimberly See, assistant professor of chemistry, and based in part on breakthrough research by the late Nobel laureate Robert Grubbs, which seeks to commercialize a novel, sustainable battery technology.
Port Therapeutics, co-founded by Mikhail Shapiro, professor of chemical engineering, which develops next-generation, programmable cell therapies.
Wilson Hill was formed specifically with the plan of helping Caltech scientists and engineers become entrepreneurs. Leading Wilson Hill is a team of investors and executives with decades of experience in deploying venture capital to commercialize breakthrough science.

“Caltech faculty and students are well known for bold ideas in the relentless pursuit of scientific excellence,” says Michael Borrus, founding partner of the fund. “It is time to further bolster the entrepreneurial ecosystem around Pasadena and the Caltech community with substantial investment and a proven, strategic approach to science-based company building.”

Faculty members, graduate and undergraduate students, and staff members are all eligible to submit pitches for startup companies; the allocation of funding will be determined based on each company’s need and potential. In addition to providing funding, Wilson Hill’s team will work with OTTCP and Caltech researchers to help optimize business models, build professional networks, and give each newly formed company its best chance for a successful launch.

“As a serial academic entrepreneur, I’ve seen a variety of approaches to science commercialization and am confident that the partnership between OTTCP and Wilson Hill will play a catalytic role in accelerating the impact of Caltech science,” says Gharib, who has founded or co-founded several companies including Foldax, which developed a synthetic human heart valve; and Glaukos, which created an eye implant to treat glaucoma.