Five promising startups spun out of CU Boulder comprise the first cohort of companies to receive investment from the Buff Venture Fund. The fund is the newest opportunity for CU Boulder startups to access critical funding on the path to success. The Buff Venture Fund is administered by Buff Gold Ventures, which has a formal partnership with Venture Partners at CU Boulder.
The Buff Venture Fund is a private venture capital fund that invests in startups connected to CU Boulder. It aims to support entrepreneurs at all stages of funding, beginning at the seed stage, to build impactful and profitable businesses. “We're looking for companies that have the most interesting, disruptive technology, that are managed and are founded by the strongest people that we believe will be able to build a company, that are targeting products that really fit an unmet need in the market, and that the customers are looking to buy. And most of our companies will have strong intellectual property as well,” said Mark Lupa, co-founder and general partner of Buff Gold Ventures.
The Buff Venture Fund's first round of funding closed in January 2022 with $25 million, which will be invested over five years. For each of the five companies to receive investment to date, its recent, newsworthy success speaks to the power of the innovation and commercialization pipeline at CU Boulder and to the fund’s mission to invest in companies that are solving problems in climate, health and other industries. “If these companies are successful, just look at some of the big impacts, which we just love…these are just some really interesting, game-changing technologies,” said Sally Hatcher, co-founder and general partner of Buff Gold Ventures.
In its first year, the Buff Venture Fund has invested in five startups:
- LongPath Technologies was co-founded by Greg Rieker, associate professor of mechanical engineering at CU Boulder, with fellow research scientists Sean Coburn, Robert Wright and Caroline Alden (at the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences). Its innovation combines laser engineering with atmospheric science to monitor greenhouse gas emissions, technology that is now poised to have a widespread, real-world impact.
- Vitro3D was launched by two PhD students, Camila Uzcategui and Johnny Hergert, working across disciplines in Professor Bob McLeod's research group in CU Boulder's College of Engineering and Applied Science. Their technology features a way to fabricate even complex objects in seconds using a novel volumetric 3D printing technology for potential use in the dental, medical and pharmaceutical industries.
- Tynt Technologies emerged from CU Boulder Professor Mike McGehee’s research group and is prepping for a product launch this year of their next generation, dynamic windows. Based on reversible metal deposition technology to control light and heat flow, they aim to boost comfort and energy efficiency, with the potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
- Think Bioscience spun out of the Fox Group, led by Jerome Fox, assistant professor of chemical and biological engineering at CU Boulder's College of Engineering and Applied Science. The company is developing small-molecule therapeutics against challenging targets by reimagining synthetic biology using living systems to inform better drug design and assembly.
- VitriVax, the newest addition to Buff Venture Fund’s portfolio, is a biotech company aiming to raze barriers to vaccine and therapeutic development and conveyance with a novel stabilization and delivery platform. The unique interdisciplinary collaboration between CU Boulder professors Bob Garcea (Molecular, Cellular & Developmental Biology) and Ted Randolph (Chemical and Biological Engineering) resulted in a technology that enables the creation of vaccines that don’t require refrigeration and can compress multiple doses in a single shot—extending life-saving benefits to underserved populations.
As a powerful mechanism for bringing big ideas to market, the Buff Venture Fund is itself an innovation. “In the past, there was really no Colorado-based investor that was regularly making early-stage investments into Colorado companies of this variety,” says Bryn Rees, associate vice chancellor for research and innovation, and managing director of Venture Partners, the commercialization arm of CU Boulder preparing campus innovators to bring their ideas to market. “That meant that some really great innovations and great startup opportunities would have just withered. It was a missed opportunity for them but also for local investors, people who have an affinity for the university who want to participate in that financial success,” he said.
Sally Hatcher, of Buff Gold Ventures, agreed. “There is an unmet need for deep tech, biotech and life sciences funding on the Front Range. There's just not enough capital in Colorado, so part of this was needing to create CU’s own opportunity to invest in the best startups and also just to help build a network so that all startups can get a wider audience and a wider opportunity, if they do want to get off the ground,” she said. “Most Tier 1 universities were already affiliated with venture funds,” said Mark Lupa. “It was really time to get it done.”
To that end, Venture Partners first brings together the university’s world-class researchers and innovators with business, startup and entrepreneurial communities to move discoveries to market as solutions that improve quality of life worldwide. Once entrepreneurs have moved through various developmental milestones—from invention to investable company—they are ready to talk to investors like Buff Gold Ventures.
The Buff Venture Fund is the latest piece of the extraordinary pipeline of opportunities available to innovators that’s putting CU Boulder at the center of a growing entrepreneurial hub and of groundbreaking success in commercialization. “CU Boulder has emerged as a top university for translating breakthrough research into these new businesses that then commercialize the research discoveries into these various products,” said Rees. “CU Boulder is creating startups at one of the highest rates among all universities in the world."
The Buff Venture Fund is a private venture capital fund that invests in startups connected to CU Boulder but is not managed, operated or controlled by the University of Colorado.