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Innovate Texas Foundation Debuts; Aims to Become Tech-Commercialization Hub for State

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Former Introgen Therapeutics CEO David Nance this week launched a non-profit organization designed to speed technology commercialization and promote economic development in Texas.

The organization, called the Innovate Texas Foundation, seeks to achieve its goals by acting as a hub that joins academic researchers, angel investors, private-equity funds, entrepreneurs, and incubators throughout the state.

And despite Nance's background as a serial investor and entrepreneur in the life sciences sector, Innovate Texas will operate across a variety of industry sectors, Nance told BTW this week.

"Texas has done a great job of getting federal funding for biomedical research and … the academic institutions have really advanced significantly in the technology commercialization field," Nance said.

"However, while our research has been very robust in Texas, our ability to keep technologies in the state to remain competitive has not been as good as other areas of the US like California and the [Boston] area," Nance added.

Initial funding for Innovate Texas will come from a federal Wagner-Peyser workforce training grant administered by the state. The amount or term of the grant has not been disclosed.

Nance said that the foundation expects future funding to come from both the government and private sector. Innovate Texas also intends to apply for grants from private foundations and seek additional federal funding, Nance added.

Nance co-founded Innovate Texas with Ryan Confer, who will serve as director of the organization. Confer was previously a senior investment manager for the Texas Emerging Technology Fund, a $275 million technology-investment fund created in 2005 by the state legislature; and has served as a financial advisor to various economic development initiatives in the office of Texas Gov. Rick Perry.

Innovate Texas got its start last May as a loosely formed organization called the Texas Technology Commercialization Foundation, in anticipation of a July 2008 report by the Texas Governor's Competitiveness Council that urged the state to establish a "statewide commercialization foundation with the private sector" to coordinate and connect innovation clusters.

According to the report, which can be downloaded here, such an organization would, among other initiatives, "create a one-stop, user-friendly, market-driven standardized commercialization model for Texas; provide technology commercialization assistance to institutions of higher education and receive disclosures of intellectual property inventory in real time;" and "create affiliation partnerships with statewide angel networks, incubators, and institutional and private equity funds."

The report also said the foundation would "help foster and manage the transfer of new technologies from the inventor to the marketplace" — a task that generally is handled by tech-transfer offices at universities and non-profit research institutes.

"We are not trying to supplant anything that they do," Nance said. "Our goal is to make our universities wealthier … and to connect them with entities inside and outside the state. We want to help them become the basis for economic development in the state, and to create more high-value jobs around technology commercialization."

One part of that will be to "import capital and management to align with our research discoveries," Nance said.

The foundation has also been working to create a detailed database of statewide resources such as research capabilities at academic institutions; as well as intellectual property, angel networks, and venture capital organizations.

The foundation has also surveyed more than 1,000 stakeholders in the state about what they feel the role of such a unifying organization should be, and what part they could play in it. Innovate Texas is still soliciting responses for the survey on its website, which went live this week as part of the organization's official launch.

Innovate Texas' launch occurs one month after Nance's resignation as chairman of the board of Introgen, an early-1990s spinout of the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center that Nance helped found through his then-employer, investment firm Texas Biomedical Development Partners.

Nance also resigned as Introgen's president and CEO last November, shortly before the company filed for bankruptcy after the US Food and Drug Administration did not accept its application for Advexin, a gene therapy cancer treatment and the company's lead therapeutic.

Nance has also served or continues to serve on myriad Texas-based institutions and councils, including the Texas Healthcare and Bioscience Institute, where he is a director; MD Anderson, where he is a member of the board of visitors; UT, where is a member of the executive advisory board on intellectual property; and the Governor's Council on Science and Biotechnology Development, of which he is a member.

Despite his bio-rich past, Nance said that Innovate Texas will focus on technology commercialization and economic development across a number of sectors, including advanced technologies, aerospace and defense, energy, IT, media and the arts, and petroleum and chemicals.

"I do have more of a biomedical background than other sectors, but we are recruiting a board of directors that will be very diverse," Nance said. "I'm going to try my best to focus on all our industry sectors as well as those sectors that aren't technology-based, but enable technology development, such as capital and finance, and government initiatives."

Innovate Texas has begun the recruitment process by naming Stefanie Sanford, deputy director of the US Program at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, to its board of directors.

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