Tulane opens center for entrepreneurs

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Tulane University has committed to a long-term, multimillion-dollar plan to create a New Orleans entrepreneurship center that will eventually be located in the former Charity Hospital, where the university has signed a lease to use the space after its redevelopment to anchor.

The Tulane Innovation Institute is working to attract more than $100 million to bring the project to market. Startups could be spawned from both the university and innovators across the New Orleans area.

Located at 1315 Gravier Street, its original headquarters will be on the ground floor of Tulane’s new Thirteen15 community in the former Warwick Hotel. Tulane hopes the Institute will result in a self-sustaining entrepreneurial ecosystem – a STEM-focused startup accelerator for university faculty, researchers, staff and students, and members of the local community.

In addition to providing critical stage funding for startups, the strategy aims to diversify New Orleans’ heavily tourism-dependent economy with new technologies, inventions and manufacturing processes.

The initiative could also provide more incentives for local college graduates to stay in the area. In Tulane, where 10% of students are from Louisiana, 40% stay in the area after graduation, according to the university.

Tulane President Michael Fitts said the project follows the university’s 50 percent research growth in recent years, with $200 million spent annually.

“It’s in areas that are really, really important in our society — like biomedical, environmental, neuroscience, health disparity… and infectious diseases,” he said. “These are areas that are so important and have potential for startups.”

The institute is part of Tulane’s plan to expand downtown. Located on its Uptown campus, the university now has 17 downtown buildings and intends to house 600 researchers in the former Charity Hospital.

“We’re seeing (downtown) where the research is going to be,” Fitts said.

Tulane alumni are among the Institute’s major donors. Robert Priddy, a 1969 graduate, funded much of the Robert L. Priddy Innovation Lab through his family endowment. The lab will be the main engine of the institute, providing budding entrepreneurs with proof-of-concept and early-stage startup gap funding.

Another donation came from Tulane board member David Mussafer and his wife Marion. This established the David and Marion Mussafer Innovation Funds to support programs and staff. The executive director of the institute will be known as David and Marion Mussafer Chief Innovation and Entrepreneurship Officer. According to a press release, a nationwide search is nearing completion.

Other supporters include Tulane board member David Barksdale and his wife Stephanie, board chairman Carol Bernick, board members emeritus Walter and Cathy Isaacson, and Jeffrey and Amy Silverman.

Fitts didn’t disclose the exact dollar amount that has already been raised, but said it was in “several million dollars.” There is ample funding “to launch it successfully at this point,” he added.

“It’s all philanthropy that gets paid for,” Fitts said. “We had a goal of what we felt was necessary to launch this and we surpassed that goal. Going forward, this has the potential to be huge not just for Tulane, but (also) New Orleans.”

He hopes that once the institute is established, it will be self-sustaining. It is moving to the Gravier Street premises within the next six months and plans to move to Charity in 2025, where Tulane has signed a long-term lease.

More philanthropic support is needed to maximize the institute’s potential, the university said. It expects a high return on investment and says the Priddy Innovation Lab will invest millions of dollars in grants and direct investments for startups over its first five years. Over time, the company expects to make equity investments in dozens of startups and expects to raise more than $100 million in capital in the region.

There are plans to form an advisory board of Tulane alumni, parents and friends around the world. A mentoring and counseling network for volunteers is also being set up.

The institute’s partners within Tulane include the Taylor Center, the Albert Lepage Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation, the Scot Ackerman MakerSpace, the Office of Technology Transfer and Intellectual Property, and the Tulane National Primate Research Center.

Local entities such as The Idea Village and the New Orleans BioInnovation Center, as well as statewide economic development groups will also be involved.

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