Pitching for Funding, Princeton Faculty Showcase their Discoveries to Investors

Written by
Daniel Day
May 1, 2024

In classic “old school” classrooms, Princeton University faculty members and fellow researchers presented their discoveries to more than two dozen venture capitalists.  

The presentations, on April 18th, gave the venture capitalists visions of products and services that within a few years or decades could propel spacecraft, fight cancer, clean up the environment and even help aging dogs. Invited investors were selected on their ability to lead a pre-seed to Series A round of funding, and because they have experience licensing from academic institutions. 

The presenters hoped their presentations would lead to further discussions, that might eventually result in investments into startup companies that would have an impact on the world. To make the event valuable to investors, presenters either had a startup already formed or were in active consideration of doing so. The innovations were all based on intellectual property owned by Princeton University and disclosed to the Office of Technology Licensing. 

Seated in desks with curved wooden writing tops, the venture capitalists heard 16 faculty members present their innovations in two rooms of McCosh Hall. Faculty members presented their innovations in fields ranging from engineering and fusion energy to computer science and life sciences.  


Yibin Kang giving a presentation

Professor Yibin Kang’s research focuses on the molecular mechanisms of breast cancer metastasis.

The pitch sessions for invited faculty and VC representatives were held in conjunction with the Tiger Entrepreneurs Conference, in which the Princeton Entrepreneurship Council brought together Princeton's growing entrepreneurial community of alumni, undergraduate and graduate students, faculty and guests.   

“It's inspiring to see Princeton promote its faculty's research,” said Jim Gunton, managing partner and founder of Tech Council Ventures. “The University is doing a terrific job helping them find ways to launch start-up companies that contribute to the state's economic development. Today's presentations are further proof of that commitment." 

“I have been waiting for such an event, and the opportunity to meet with local investors,” said Fatima Ebrahimi, a principal research physicist at the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (PPPL) Theory Department and an affiliated research scholar at Princeton’s department of astrophysical sciences

“It was great to present my Magnetic Reconnection Drive (MRD) plasma-propulsion invention,” Ebrahimi said, who described a system designed for spacecraft travel. “There was promising interest in this technology and in the potential market opportunities. It was important to connect with these investors and to start building partnerships to develop a full-scale prototype. It was also exciting to meet other entrepreneurs from across the campus, and to learn about their paths.” 

Peter Jaffé, the William L. Knapp '47 Professor of Civil Engineering and professor of civil and environmental engineering, and José Avalos, associate professor of chemical and biological engineering and the Andlinger Center for Energy and the Environment, each gave sessions that featured their research into ways to rid toxic PFAS from soil and water. 

“It was the first time I did something like this, so it was a great learning experience for me,” Avalos said. “I made four or five interesting connections and I hope they materialize into more detailed conversations in the future. Time will tell. I also enjoyed hearing about the ideas of my colleagues on campus. I hope Princeton does this regularly.”   

John Ritter, executive director of the Office of Technology Licensing at Princeton, said: “We hope and expect that this will become a regular event. The frequency will depend on the faculty, and whether they want to start companies.” 

Joshua Rabinowitz, director of the Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research Princeton Branch and a professor in Princeton’s department of chemistry and the Lewis-Sigler Institute for Integrative Genomics, explained cellular metabolism research he has developed, and which has been the basis for two spinout ventures. The work he showcased has the potential to fight cancer and autoimmune diseases. 

Justin Silpe, a postdoctoral researcher in the lab of Bonnie Bassler, the Squibb Professor in Molecular Biology, discussed technology they are developing to extend the shelf life of breast milk. In their case they also included an experienced co-founder who has taken the CEO role of the startup. The nutritional value of breast milk deteriorates quite quickly when frozen, which has an impact on it becoming rancid, and no longer being viable. 

Professor of astrophysical science, head of the Theory Department of the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory, and director of the Princeton Center for Heliophysics, Amitava Bhattarcharjee, described how investments will help the company he co-founded, Stellarex, bring fusion energy to the power grid in a decade or so. 

Professor Cameron

Professor Cameron Myhrvold is a leading authority on CRISPR-based technologies for studying viral and cellular RNA.

Cameron Myhrvold, assistant professor of molecular biology, explained how the gene-editing techniques that he is developing could form an alternative to surgery for dogs suffering from hip dysplasia and many other problems that purebred dogs often suffer. 

The presentations impressed the venture capitalists who attended the sessions and later attended a dinner hosted by Craig Arnold, the University’s vice dean for innovation and the Susan Dod Brown Professor of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering. 

"As scholars at a place like Princeton, we’re constantly talking about how to translate our ideas into impact”, Arnold said. “The faculty members we heard from today are actively doing that - moving their innovations to impact.  They serve as excellent resources for our entire Princeton community.” 

Thanking the venture capitalists for coming to campus, he described Princeton’s involvement in the innovation ecosystem as building bridges across campus and beyond and breaking down barriers to ensure research discoveries flourish for the betterment of society. 

Harry Won, life science associate at Osage University Partners in Bala Cynwyd, Pennsylvania, said it was exciting to learn about so many research developments in their early stages. “This is like a window into the future that could be,” Won said. “You push the boundaries of human knowledge a little bit at a time.” 

(Photos from Sameer Khan – Photobuddy.  Article by Daniel Day, for Princeton Research)