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Indiana U taps alumni for philanthropic venture fund


By Jesse Schwartz
Published: August 1st, 2018

A $15 million venture fund at Indiana University is soliciting donations from the school’s 700,000 alumni, but the return on their investment will come only in the form of a tax deduction and the knowledge that they’re helping bring important discoveries to the marketplace. The fund works, according to its leader, because alumni can be motivated in venture funding the same way they can be for other donations that do not provide a financial return.

The IU Philanthropic Venture Fund is one of the biggest in the Midwest and could grow to $50 million, the university says. It will back IU-related research and start-ups. Rather than receiving any financial benefit from their contributions, donors will get no returns and the fund’s earnings will be reinvested. The fund’s initial $15 million came from the Indiana University Foundation and Indiana University Research & Technology Corporation (IURTC), a not-for-profit that fosters collaboration between IU researchers and private industry through licensing and business development. The $15 million is just initial seed funding, and the university intends the fund to be evergreen, hopefully growing over time.

An eight-person committee will determine which projects get funding. Tony Armstrong, CEO of the IURTC, is on the committee and explains that the unusual venture fund grew out of a fund started about eight years ago called the Innovate Indiana fund. It was a $10 million fund that involved the medical school and the university foundation to provide critical, early-stage seed funding.

The leaders of that fund wanted to work more with alumni who had promising technology and companies, investing most of the $10 million with them. That led the university to think more about how to tap into those alumni, and the IU Philanthropic Venture Fund was born.

“The difference is that this is a vehicle for alumni and friends of the university who want to make a donation to the university and get that tax benefit, but have their donations go to this pool of innovation capital,” Armstrong says. “We’re hoping to broaden it to do even earlier stage funding, and we’re hoping with this deeper pool of funding we can stay in the funding rounds a little bit longer than we could in the past.”

The financial benefit will be significant, Armstrong says, but the university sees an even bigger benefit from engaging alumni and keeping them involved. “We’ll then be able to ask them for help with mentoring our students and faculty involved with these start-up companies, vetting the companies and technology, helping us find talent to grow and manage these companies,” Armstrong say. “The biggest potential from this fund lies in helping us reconnect with alumni across the world and making them aware of what we’re doing, and having them share their expertise with us to develop this technology.”

A detailed article on the IU philanthropic fund appears in the July issue of Technology Transfer Tactics. To subscribe and get the full article, as well as 24/7 access to the publication’s 11-year archive of best practices and success strategies for TTOs, CLICK HERE.

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