Rothenberg Innovation Initiative: A Catalyst for Caltech Breakthroughs

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A Catalyst for Caltech Breakthroughs

Caltech is a community of entrepreneurs. Yet even a breakthrough process or invention with the potential to address an unmet need in the marketplace faces numerous obstacles on the journey to commercial development.

James Rothenberg knew that. A former Caltech trustee, Rothenberg believed in the Institute’s mission to build a bridge for its entrepreneurial researchers. The Rothenberg Innovation Initiative (RI2), now named in honor of Jim and his wife, Anne Rothenberg, provides up to two years of support for Caltech research that could lead to marketable technologies. To date, competitive RI2 grants have spurred 176 patents, 18 start-ups, and 40 disclosed inventions. With additional backing, RI2 could help even more campus breakthroughs cross the innovators’ “valley of death” and reach the wider world.

Join the Rothenbergs in supporting the Rothenberg Innovation Initiative.

Rothenberg Start-up Success Stories

frances arnold

Molecules for Medicine

Nobel laureate Frances Arnold and her team have developed a unique, sustainable, and highly efficient way to produce non-canonical amino acids (ncAAs), which are essential building blocks for pharmaceuticals and medical imaging agents. Until now, the synthesis of ncAAs has required an expensive, time-consuming process that uses toxic metals. The work by Arnold led to the creation of the start-up Aralez Bio.

Autism Treatments

Sarkis Mazmanian was one of the first to show a link between bacteria found in the human intestinal tract and disorders of the central nervous system, such as autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and Parkinson’s disease (PD). RI2 supported this basic research at Caltech, which led to Mazmanian’s creation of Axial Biotheraputics, a Boston-based start-up focused on translating discoveries from the Mazmanian laboratory into patients through ongoing clinical trials.

Wireless Power

A Pasadena start-up called GuRu was borne from RI2-supported research by Ali Hajimiri. GuRu has used its own intellectual property in concert with IP licensed from Caltech to build a wireless platform that converts electricity into radio-wave energy that beams power directly to devices anywhere in a room.

Caltech patents per 300 faculty members—more than Stanford or MIT
Start-up companies borne from RI2 support

Building on a Legacy

The creativity of Caltech faculty, spurred by the brisk competition for RI2 grants, generates an abundance of worthy projects.  The initiative supported 9 new or continuing projects in 2020. With additional support, the Rothenberg Innovation Initiative could back even more inventions and ideas that need a springboard to make a substantial impact on society.

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Caltech Innovators: The 2020 Class of RI2 -supported Scientists

Resources for Caltech Entrepreneurs

Caltech’s Office of Technology Transfer and Corporate Partnerships (OTTCP), the administrative headquarters of RI2, offers a storehouse of resources to support Institute faculty with entrepreneurial ambitions.

  • The entrepreneur-in-residence (EIR) program brings experienced entrepreneurs to campus to promote the formation of start-up companies and, more specifically, to increase both the quality and quantity of start-ups based on Caltech intellectual property.
  • The RI2 selection committee (which consists of the EIR, vice provost, three faculty members, three outside investors, and two representatives from OTTCP) vets faculty proposals and chooses the projects likely to reap the greatest benefit from RI2 support.
  • Because every start-up is different, RI2 provides tailored support to custom-fit each faculty member’s need. Some projects, for example, may only require funds for an additional postdoctoral scholar to complete highly technical research, whereas others may require larger or longer awards to help meet regulatory milestones, which is often the case for game-changing research in the life sciences.

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For information about giving to RI2, please contact:

Joe Shea
Senior Director of Development, Advancement and Alumni Relations
(626) 395-4643

Case Cortese
Director for Innovation, New Ventures & Entrepreneurship
(626) 395-4942