Princeton’s Office of Technology Licensing helps translate the groundbreaking discoveries made at Princeton into useful applications and services that can benefit society.
One of the ways to bring technologies out of the University is via the formation of startup companies. If successful, these new ventures, also called spin-outs, could deliver life-improving innovations to people while growing the economy and providing jobs.
“Universities are wonderful places for the generation of ideas and the research needed to make discoveries,” said Princeton’s Vice Dean for Innovation Rodney Priestley, a professor of chemical and biological engineering. “But we need to work with outside entities including startups to develop technologies further, through prototyping, testing, packaging and many other steps to make these innovations ready for use by the public.”
Tony Williams is the New Ventures Associate in Princeton’s Office of Technology Licensing. He helps faculty, postdoctoral researchers, graduate students and others in the Princeton research community form companies based around their research.
“We try to be a one-stop-shop to support faculty and other campus researchers who want to start companies,” Williams said. “Our job is to act as a node between Princeton researchers and the many people in the wider community who are looking to help.
“We’ve seen a significant growth in the number of companies that are forming, raising money, creating jobs and creating products,” he said. “The hope is that this is going to be a virtuous cycle as more faculty see exciting companies being built.”
“We try to connect researchers to the market, help them get a better understanding of how the industry in question operates, learn precisely what problems need solving, and therefore create a better understanding of the value proposition for the business,” Williams said.
“Typically, we have world-class researchers engaged and wanting to push a startup forward, but we need to compliment this academic talent with commercial entrepreneurial expertise,” Williams said. “This can range from finding mentors to come in and provide advice for our researcher entrepreneurs, right through to bringing in experienced entrepreneurs from the outside to work in leadership roles at the new company.”
“Sources of early stage funding can range widely, from family and friends to large seed investment rounds with the venture capital community,” Williams said. “Our role is to bring researchers and funding sources together: We have developed a series of relationships with investors across various industries and with various investment scopes, all of whom are looking to put capital into early stage businesses. We try to connect the right investor to the right project at the right time. Alternatively, a more appropriate path may be foundational funding, or federal grant programs such as SBIR or STTR. We try to help find the right funding path for each startup.”
“We make sure IP is properly protected whether through patenting, copyright protection, or whatever the mechanism may be,” Williams said. “For startups, we make sure they have the IP protection they need to provide a sustainable competitive advantage as the business grows. And then we make sure, through licensing, that they have all the rights they need to the IP.”
Nuts and bolts of incorporation
“We help with the nuts and bolts of getting a company started,” Williams said. “For example, if you need help with incorporation, or need to find a lawyer, accountant or insurance, we can provide links, advice, and help with networking to find the right person for the job.”
Extensive expertise in startups
Williams' background gives him special insight into the concerns of researchers who want to form startups. After earning a PhD in chemistry from the University of Cambridge, Tony gained postdoctoral research experience in materials chemistry at the University of Edinburgh, and then at Princeton University in the laboratory of Professor Robert Cava. Williams later earned an MBA from the University of Oxford, where he won a competitive fellowship to work for the university’s technology transfer office.
Prior to joining Princeton's Technology Licensing office, Williams spent three years on the Technology Ventures team at Imperial Innovations, the technology transfer office of Imperial College London and one of the UK’s leading investors in academic research-based startups. He was responsible for the development of early-stage investment opportunities from universities, including evaluation of technologies, design and execution of proof-of-concept projects, investment negotiation, and deal execution, working with the academic founders to build businesses based on their cutting-edge research.
Recent startups that have spun out from Princeton:
Kayothera is developing new therapeutics to give hope to one of the most vulnerable patient populations, people with late-stage or metastatic cancers.
Feasible is pioneering advanced battery diagnostics using ultrasound and machine learning.
NeuTigers offers industry professionals and individuals a horizontal end-to-end platform for machine learning, enabling embedded intelligence across cloud, edge devices (smartphones, wearables) and sensors.
Offchain labs makes smart contracts private and scalable while providing security through the blockchain.
Optimal Dynamics is bringing advanced AI to the trucking industry to solve optimization problems.
Princeton Climate Analytics provides weather and climate information services, revolutionizing the quality and optimization of weather, water, and climate data.
Instrumems is developing innovative sensors based on a new sensing platform “nano-wire” that allows measurement of temperature, velocity and humidity.
Andluca Technologies is making glass smarter and more efficient without compromising design.