Deep Tech Entrepreneurship: From Lab to Impact

  • Livio Valenti
| May 17, 2022

Executive Summary

In the United States alone, breakthrough scientific discoveries are made every day. Critically important technologies are developed in universities and research laboratories with an unparalleled amount of public funding. This research ecosystem produces a wealth of discoveries. However, a large portion of successful innovations fail to transition out of the lab. Most innovations fail to become the capabilities needed to address the most pressing societal issues faced today. Climate change, energy, pandemics, cybersecurity, terrorism. The list goes on.

To understand the magnitude of what new scientific discoveries can do for our society, it is useful to look at some of the most notable, historical successes and their associated impact. The internet, lithium batteries, global positioning satellites, a Google search, the current Covid-19 vaccine and Siri, are just a few examples of how government-funded research delivered critical technologies. But for each one of those successes, how many discoveries are we failing to bring to fruition? Very few innovations become new commercial products or services. Even less are poised to address the public interest. Many technologies remain lab experiments that, even when they succeed to address technical or government needs, fail to become a generalized solution to address societal problems.

This report reinforces that some of the best research and development centers are located within the US national laboratory network; provides a new way of approaching the innovation ecosystem of public, private, and university research; and suggests a framework to increase collaboration across labs, deep-tech entrepreneurs, and venture capital investors. We decided to focus on the commercialization challenges and opportunities specifically linked to the Federally Funded Research and Development Centers (FFRDCs), funded with more than $16 billion annually in taxpayer money. We fundamentally believe that these FFRDCs have massive, untapped potential to accelerate development of technologies to change the world.

Hence, the following pages provide an analysis of the current limitations related to translation of science from the US national labs into new ventures. Additionally, we highlight promising initiatives and case studies aimed at spurring entrepreneurship. It is important to note that making technologies available from government-funded research and development labs is not only a desirable outcome, but also included in the charters of these organizations. As a result, the maturing and translation of technologies should not only be an aspiration but treated as top priority. We provide examples via case studies of successful spin offs, and we conclude with key policy recommendations aimed at increasing the translation of science from lab to impact.

Lastly, we asked the challenging question. Given the positioning of the national labs, current funding and governance, how could we have a practical impact in this field? The last chapter describes an initiative to launch and scale a deep technology venture fund aimed at identifying, assessing and investing in technologies born in National Labs. We also developed a map of technological capabilities, and matched those with key macro areas such as human health, climate, food and agriculture, industrials and other. The map is reported below. The result is a tool that investors, entrepreneurs and policy makers can use to identify some of the best scientific innovations being currently developed. This is needed to build our tomorrow.

If we want to understand where novel technologies come from, we cannot continue to overlook some of the most advanced research centers simply because they are complex. We hope that this assessment will provide inspiration to entrepreneurs to take action in launching new deep tech ventures using some of the best technologies available today.

About the Author

Livio Valenti is an entrepreneur working alongside top scientists leveraging scientific discoveries to build new ventures. He is the co-founder of Vaxess Technologies, an MIT and Tufts University biotechnology spin-off developing a new class of vaccines that can be delivered with a sustained release silk-based patch. These vaccines do not require refrigeration and can be self-administered painlessly directly by patients in their skin. He was also co-founder of Mori, an MIT advanced materials company using engineered silk fibroin to eliminate food waste and Moveo, a commercial stage advanced engineering company selling the world’s lighter, passive exoskeleton, originally conceived at Harvard University. Those companies raised more than $150mn in Venture Capital and public funding to date, pioneering a sustainable model of venture creation in collaboration between deep tech VCs, R&D centres and the public sector.

Livio is a Forbes 30 under 30 honoree, Wire Magazine Top Innovator under 35, a fellow at the Atlantic Council, a TEDx speaker and an affiliate with the Aspen Institute. Livio was previously an economist at the United Nations. He graduated from the Harvard Kennedy School of Government (USA), Bocconi University (Italy) and Fudan University (China).

For more information on this publication: Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation: Valenti, Livio . “Deep Tech Entrepreneurship: From Lab to Impact.” , May 17, 2022.

The Author

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