The 2019 commitment from Stewart and Lynda Resnick to expand the Resnick Sustainability Institute includes a mandate to connect the fundamental insights gained in research to implementation and scale up for real-world impact. The RSI believes that advancing scientific breakthroughs towards practical outcomes is a critical step in addressing the challenges of climate change and sustainability with the urgency that now is vitally needed.
Caltech's unique approach to science and engineering research means approaching the process of implementing solutions with an expansive definition of entrepreneurship: thinking creatively in ambiguous environments, making and analyzing observations, identifying critical problems, and developing validated solutions and pathways to meet these needs. These learned skills can equally be applied to research, (especially translational), management and applied engineering within industry, policy setting, investing in technology, or starting a company.
This translational science and entrepreneurship approach meshes well with a core group of Caltech faculty and students, passionate about climate change, who look to translate the research funded by the Resnick Sustainability Institute into real world outcomes, including new ventures.
Following this concept, RSI is beginning to create modular programs adapted to Caltech researchers, that inform scientists and engineers about the broader world of cleantech and sustainability, and the interconnections between economics, government policy and political and social interactions. Understanding the intersection with technology leads to discovering the "white spaces" where their innovation can flourish.
This development effort is headed by Stephanie Yanchinski, RSI's Director of Entrepreneurial Programs and Executive Director of the Rocket Fund - the RSI-led consortium supporting early stage cleantech and sustainability companies. She believes that creating an integrated approach will foster the kind of camaraderie and powerful idea exchange essential to solving sustainability challenges effectively and quickly. A trained scientist, with a history of successfully helping university entrepreneurs launch companies, Yanchinski has worked closely with Caltech students and researchers starting cleantech companies.
RSI already has a history of starting new ventures through the Rocket Fund, a member supported granting pool that helps academic innovators turn their technologies into commercial realities through financial support, entrepreneurial education and mentoring. With partners drawn from industry, the fund awards grants to bridge the so-called "Valley of Death", after university support ends, but before funding from government agencies, corporate partners and investors kicks in. Aimed at accelerating the development of functional prototypes and early customer pilots and demonstrations, the Rocket Fund impacts energy efficiency and sustainability through its successful companies. Launched in 2015, the program provided more than $1 m in awards to 30 young companies that went on to attract $85 million in follow on funding.
Read more about the creation of the Rocket Fund and RSI's translational vision here.
Visit the Rocket Fund website to apply or learn more about the grantees.
Director of Entrepreneurial Programs, RSI