UT and RGP joint venture, Rocket Ventures, accelerates economic developmentBy Jon Strunk : August 24th, 2011
University of Toledo Innovation Enterprises and the Regional Growth Partnership (RGP) have formed a new joint venture designed to help entrepreneurs more quickly turn their ideas into jobs. Innovation Enterprises is the University’s not-for-profit economic development arm.The new entity, Rocket Ventures LLC, will help companies commercialize their technology, support new technology-based firms, and provide seed funding to attract external investment in companies served by the 18-county northwest Ohio footprint.
“The goal is to create jobs. We’re trying to create a single front door for entrepreneurs that allows them to move seamlessly between the expertise and resources offered by both the RGP and UT, through Innovation Enterprises,” said Rick Stansley, who is chair of the new five-member Rocket Ventures LLC board. Stansley also chairs the Innovation Enterprises board.
The joint venture, an equal partnership between the RGP and UT Innovation Enterprises, brings together the talent, assets and resources from both organizations. The RGP previously housed Rocket Ventures, a $22.5 million pre-seed, early-stage venture capital firm. Funding for Rocket Ventures comes from private investment and grant dollars through the Ohio Department of Development’s Third Frontier Program, which is a $2.3 billion initiative to create new technology-based products, companies, industries and jobs.
Business development personnel and Entrepreneurs-in-Residence (EIR) from Rocket Ventures join the new organization and UT Innovation Enterprises is providing access to physical incubation space, the University’s successful tech transfer division and the UT Innovation Enterprises investment fund.
Stansley said the business model will focus on an EIR hands-on approach, providing more effective and efficient business services to tech-based clients. The two most important issues for early-stage companies, according to Stansley, are management expertise and money. Through this joint venture, the opportunity for both increases dramatically, he said.
Officials said combining all business development services into a single entity will provide a better front door for entrepreneurs. The new partnership will help accelerate the process to make new companies self-sustainable as Rocket Ventures LLC Entrepreneurs-in-Residence work with firms to establish goals and set benchmarks, such as the amount of venture capital needed or a date by which a CEO needs to be hired.
Both Rocket Ventures LLC and UT Innovation Enterprises will retain the independence of their separately operated venture funds. They will collaborate to offer new technology businesses with innovation and business development services spanning from lab to launch.
“Universities are called on today to play an active role in the economic development of their communities,” said UT President Lloyd Jacobs. “We do that primarily by producing a well-educated class of men and women each year to enter and provide leadership in the work force. But at The University of Toledo, we’ve also embraced a much more direct strategy of economic development during the past five years, and this closer partnership with the Regional Growth Partnership only enhances these efforts.”
Jacobs said the creative assistance of Lisa Delp from the Ohio Department of Development was key to the joint venture’s success. Delp serves as entrepreneurial services and incubation program manager for the department.
Dean Monske, president and CEO of the Regional Growth Partnership, anticipates Rocket Ventures LLC serving as the primary resource for tech-based companies and service providers across the entire region, from Auglaize to Sandusky counties. “This truly is a valuable resource that all counties should utilize to best spur technology commercialization and create a knowledge-based economy.”