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"Even 10 Percent Would Make a Huge Impact"

$5.4 million gift creates translational research seed fund for faculty start-ups
Posted January 12, 2016
Louis B. Thalheimer Louis B. Thalheimer

As a Johns Hopkins Medicine trustee, Baltimore businessman and philanthropist Louis B. Thalheimer is well aware of the flood of discoveries and innovations produced each year by Hopkins faculty members.

He's also aware that only a small number of these advances make it out of the lab and into the world. And he'd like to change that.

"Hopkins discoveries could help to improve people's lives, grow Baltimore's economy, and strengthen the long-term viability of the university," Thalheimer says. "But only if we can bring more of them off the bench and into daily use."

To support commercialization of faculty research — and to address a gap in available funding to do so — he has established the Louis B. Thalheimer Fund for Translational Research at Johns Hopkins Technology Ventures. The $5.4 million endowment will provide $25,000-to-$100,000 seed grants for vital proof-of-concept, prototype, and commercial feasibility studies.  

Johns Hopkins Technology Ventures is the organization tasked with maximizing the impact of university research by facilitating the translation and commercialization of discoveries into accessible technologies, products, and services for the benefit of society.

Led by Christy Wyskiel, senior advisor to Johns Hopkins University President Ronald J. Daniels, Technology Ventures is guided by a faculty committee that has recommended three areas of need: flexible, affordable space for entrepreneurs to work and interact; seed funding to help with early stage development of ideas; and educational and support programs to help start-ups reach a stage where they can present themselves effectively to prospective investors and partners.

The Thalheimer gift provides more than a quarter of the amount targeted for seed funding. In total, the university is investing $40 million in this effort, half of it to come from philanthropic sources.

"With some 500 invention disclosures submitted by Hopkins faculty members each year," Wyskiel states, "the task is not to find innovators but to help them move forward." She describes the Hopkins faculty as a “rich resource” for investors. "We have an incredibly deep well of products to draw from at Johns Hopkins."

Among several benefits of increasing the commercialization of Hopkins research will be the return this brings to the university. "Today, with a downward trend in government funding for basic research," Thalheimer notes, "it’s more important than ever to find new sources of revenue. Funding new research with the proceeds from commercial successes will make our research enterprise that much more viable.

"Realizing the potential value of more of our discoveries would be enormous,” concludes Thalheimer. "Even 10 percent would have a huge impact."