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Triangle Universities Partnering to Attract Innovation Funding

Four Triangle-area universities will partner to build an alumni network to invest in new ventures of the larger university community, with the help of a $250,000 grant from the U.S. Economic Development Administration to the Duke Innovation & Entrepreneurship Initiative (Duke I&E).

The Triangle Venture Alliance (TVA) -- a partnership of Duke University, the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, North Carolina State University and North Carolina Central University -- will develop a network of cooperating angel groups that will tap the alumni base of the region’s universities to draw seed-stage capital to the region. It is modeled after an angel investing network developed at Duke last year.

“Among the Triangle’s greatest resources is the innovation created by our universities -- innovation that will power the knowledge economy of the coming decades,” said Eric Toone, vice provost and director of Duke I&E. “The Triangle Venture Alliance unleashes that potential by attracting seed-stage capital that will advance those innovations toward market, enable follow-on investment, and help build a vibrant and powerful startup ecosystem.”

Toone said the individual angel networks will share office support and diligence expertise, and in many instances will invest jointly. Collectively, the TVA will focus the resources and experience of thousands of savvy, experienced alumni to invest in new ventures emanating from the university community, Toone noted.

 “The Triangle Venture Alliance will enable the Triangle universities to provide high-quality investment opportunities to our alumni and seed-stage capital to our startup companies," said Al Rebar, vice chancellor for research, innovation and economic development at NC State. 

“The creation of the TVA continues and builds upon the cooperation between the schools developed through the Blackstone Entrepreneurship Network (BEN) and demonstrates the deep commitment of all four institutions to entrepreneurship and the region,” said Amy Stursberg, executive director of the Blackstone Charitable Foundation, funder of BEN.

Founded in 2011 with a $3.63 million gift from the Blackstone Charitable Foundation, BEN provides a dense network of entrepreneurial support for start-ups in the Triangle, similar to networks that exist in Silicon Valley and the Boston Corridor. The Blackstone Charitable Foundation partnered with Triangle universities on this initiative.

“We are excited to see this support for the region’s growing entrepreneurial community as it amplifies our Blackstone Entrepreneurs Network investment,” Stursberg said. “The TVA will complement our program by providing an important source of capital to the next high-growth businesses of the region.” 

The Duke Angel Network was established in June 2015 and already has more than 60 angel members who have viewed more than 80 deals and invested in seven of those deals, many of which are based in Durham and the surrounding area. Duke also has created the Duke Innovation Fund, a philanthropic fund that invests in the same deals selected for investment by angel members.

The partnering universities collectively deploy in excess of $2.5 billion in annual research expenditures, and generate an enormous wealth of intellectual property -- cures for diseases, radical advances in energy and communications, and novel solutions to the world’s most pressing social problems, Toone said. “These game-changing technologies advance toward deployment and impact through commerce -- the creation of new companies, and licensing arrangements with existing companies,” Toone said.

But despite this tremendous advantage of raw material, the region continues to struggle to attract investment capital, especially seed- and early-stage financing, Toone added.

As it emerges from its historical roots in agriculture and manufacturing, the Piedmont region of North Carolina offers a unique set of opportunities for entrepreneurship, said Judith Cone, vice chancellor for commercialization and economic development at UNC-Chapel Hill.  “The region includes multiple world-class universities, an educated and ambitious population, and a remarkably high standard of living,” said Cone. “The region is more than primed for rapid growth, and entrepreneurship will play a central role in that development. “