Carolina Research Venture Fund will help faculty startups

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Kasper Kubica, a physics major from Duke, and UNC student David Spratte, who is majoring in chemistry, are two of the founders of Clutch Lotion

The UNC Board of Trustees created the Carolina Research Venture Fund to help University startups, especially those involving faculty.

The $5 million fund will support intellectual-based projects, said Judith Cone, the recently named interim vice chancellor of commercialization and economic development.

Cone said the creation of the fund and the new vice chancellor position attests to the University’s commitment to innovation.

“The campus has so much potential in commercialization that has been untapped,” Cone said. “Having an office waking up 24/7 to work on this is very exciting and will bode well for the University.”

An advisory board, including Cone and Sallie Shuping-Russell, a trustee who announced the fund’s creation Jan. 21, will run the fund. It will also have one or more venture capitalists as outside managers, who will ultimately determine which projects are paid for.

Sophomore David Spratte, creator of Clutch Lotion, said the University provides great resources to students to be innovative, including 1789 Venture Lab and Launch Chapel Hill, but funding remains an obstacle.

“Throughout history we see revolutionary ideas coming from young people,” Spratte said. “The younger we are, the more risks we take or the more risk averse we are. But as college students, innovation has the barrier of money.”

The young entrepreneur said he wishes a fund would be available to students like himself so they can work without one of his biggest obstacles.

“If we had money in the bank, what we would be doing right now would be completely different,” Spratte said.

Ted Zoller, director of the Center for Entrepreneurial Studies at Kenan-Flagler Business School, said any type of money is important in propping up a startup in its early stages.

“I think it jump-starts us and takes us to the next level,” Zoller said. “It allows us to attract a wider set of investors in University projects.”

Zoller also teaches Launching the Venture in the business school — a program that has a clear link to the new fund. The course is available to students, staff and faculty and gives them the opportunity to create their own startup with the guidance of entrepreneurial experts.

While the money is designated for intellectual-based startups, there is a possibility to develop financial support for student ventures after this fund is settled, Cone said.

Taylor Sharp, junior and co-founder of the startup CommuniGift, said the fund is fitting with the entrepreneurial spirit the University already fuels.

“I think we’re becoming a hub for innovation,” Sharp said. “We hope this is a serious step for fostering innovation and look forward to see if funding is extended to student startup ventures.”

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