Tech Transfer eNews Blog

Columbia program takes in non-university ventures to boost impact, grow ecosystem

By Jesse Schwartz
Published: January 26th, 2022

A detailed article on the Columbia Startup Fellows program appears in the January issue of Technology Transfer Tactics. To subscribe and access the complete article, or for further subscription details, click here.

A new program at Columbia University is calling on the resources of its technology transfer office and others to help launch promising start-ups from outside the university and tap into the school’s considerable expertise in venture creation, as well as its specialized research equipment.

The Columbia Startup Fellows (CSF) program invites off-campus entrepreneurs to use a small amount of underutilized lab space and equipment that previously had been unavailable to non-university inventors. Selecting appropriate candidates who will be a good fit with Columbia, and securing contracts, will rely on the expertise of the TTO.

“The Fellows apply through the TTO, but we are coordinating reviews and approvals from all across campus. We are accepting no more than 20 during this pilot first year,” says Orin Herskowitz, executive director of Columbia Technology Ventures. “We are looking for start-ups related to climate, energy, materials and medicine. Their needs for particular specialized equipment should match what Columbia has available. The Fellows will be embedded for a year; their work should be in the earliest stages, and the teams should be small — one or two members.”

It is fundamental to the program’s protocol that these are start-ups whose innovations can make a significant positive, even global, impact on real-world problems, Herskowitz says. “These should be start-up companies that might not otherwise have access in the near future to the infrastructure and resources to help them launch.”

Eligible start-ups must not have raised more than $1 million in dilutive funding, with a focus on climate and engineering in the first cohort. (For more details on program requirements, go to: The applicants must also be free of conflicts of interest such as a concurrent Columbia appointment, and no Columbia employees affiliated with the venture are allowed to collaborate with the Fellow using university resources. The start-ups must also cover the Fellow’s salary as well as any required liability or personal health insurance.

Columbia takes no equity or other ownership stake in the companies, and the university sees its benefits as part of its mission to solve societal problems and build a more vibrant deep tech ecosystem, leveraging existing resources for greater overall impact.

In preparing the program, Herskowitz says, it’s critical that faculty with relevant available equipment and facilities — critical for “tough tech” startups — apply to host an entrepreneur, who will work out of benches within their lab for a year.

Faculty must opt in to the program and gain approval from administration, and they must have excess lab capacity that does not siphon resources from Columbia students or faculty. They and their lab students are also forbidden from becoming financially involved or paid by the start-up during the Fellowship period.

The first cohort of Fellows will begin work on campus in early 2022.

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