Empowering students and faculty to bring innovative ideas into the world

Under President Salovey, Yale’s innovation ecosystem has grown to touch every part of campus and has strengthened connections with New Haven. Fifth in a series.
Overhead view of students at a workbench in the Yale Center for Engineering Innovation and Design

The Yale Center for Engineering Innovation and Design (Photo by Surbhi Bharadwaj)

This story is the fifth in a series about Yale’s evolution under President Peter Salovey as he prepares to return to the faculty.

In his research, Yale’s Noah Planavsky uses advanced geochemistry to explore how rock weathering — a natural process in which carbon is removed from the atmosphere — might be harnessed to address the threat of climate change.

And with university support, he’s been able to turn these insights into action — co-founding two startups focused on lowering atmospheric carbon levels. One of the companies, Lithos Carbon, accelerates the Earth’s natural carbon cycle by deploying enhanced rock weathering in agriculture to permanently remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and improve crop yields. The other, CREW Carbon, injects minerals into wastewater, treating the water and removing carbon dioxide simultaneously.

Some research outcomes can trigger immediate change, said Planavsky. But moving the research from the lab to the real world is difficult and requires skills that investigators may not yet have. Yale offered critical support to help foster the growth of Lithos Carbon and CREW Carbon, both led by former students of Plavansky’s.

Planavasky points to resources and initiatives like Yale Ventures, Yale Planetary Solutions, and the Yale Center for Natural Carbon Capture as just a few examples of how the university supports innovators, efforts that bring focus to important issues, advance research, and facilitate the leap from lab to marketplace.

Yale has embraced the idea that we have tremendous potential to make a positive impact, to do transformative research to improve society, and it’s making it easier for us to take innovations out into the world,” said Planavsky, a professor of Earth and planetary sciences in Yale’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences.

The world is facing unprecedented challenges and Yale, under President Peter Salovey’s guidance, has made changes that allow researchers to have more of a direct impact.”

Promoting entrepreneurship’s potential to bring research insights to bear on global challenges has imbued Salovey’s tenure as Yale president since its earliest days. During his inauguration speech, Salovey emphasized the importance of innovation, asking, “How can we create a local ecosystem that supports entrepreneurs?”

Since then, Yale has launched innovation and entrepreneurship spaces like the Tsai Center for Innovative Thinking (Tsai CITY), which supports students with innovative solutions to real-world challenges, and Yale Ventures, which connects faculty, students, staff, and community leaders through innovation programming, intellectual property and licensing resources, business development, partnerships, mentorship, and events.

Tsai Center for Innovative Thinking at Yale
Tsai Center for Innovative Thinking at Yale (Photo by Dan Renzetti)

This growing culture of innovation has also helped spawn dozens of new startups, including over two dozen in New Haven in just the last five years as well as over 70 faculty-led ventures in Connecticut.

The past decade has also brought additional funding for innovators, strengthened connections across departments and to industry, and deep investment in the sciences and engineering, including the establishment of the Innovation Corridor between Prospect Street and Hillhouse Avenue and state-of-the-art new buildings and renovations on Science Hill, lower Hillhouse Avenue, and College Street.

At Yale, we are committed to supporting our faculty and student entrepreneurs in tackling the most critical challenges facing humankind,” said Salovey. “By nurturing connections across campus and fostering integrative approaches, we help create new approaches and technologies that can benefit the world, all while building partnerships with New Haven and creating new opportunities for our wider community.”

Josh Geballe — who first met Salovey after enrolling in his course, “Psychology 110,” as a Yale undergrad in 1993 — returned to Yale in 2022, drawn to the growing innovation ecosystem he’d watched take shape in the years after Salovey became Yale president in 2013.

Eleven years later, he’s really delivered on that commitment,” said Geballe, who is now senior associate provost for entrepreneurship and innovation at Yale and managing director of Yale Ventures. “The momentum that we have in entrepreneurship and innovation, and the impact that Yale’s having in the world and in the New Haven economy has increased dramatically.”

Anjelica Gonzalez and Josh Geballe
Anjelica Gonzalez and Josh Geballe (Photos by Dan Renzetti and Stephanie Anestis, respectively)

Anjelica Gonzalez, the faculty director for Tsai CITY, is an innovator herself; she invented a low-cost, mobile neonatal respiratory device called PremieBreathe, used to treat newborns with respiratory complications in countries and regions with scarce health care resources.

You have to have resources, environments, and spaces that are structured for people to tinker, to play with ideas, to commune and engage in teamwork and collaboration for innovation to come alive,” said Gonzalez, who is a professor of biomedical engineering at the School of Engineering and Applied Science. “President Salovey championed this type of support.”

Innovation is best suited for places that foster it,” she said. “And that’s what President Salovey has enabled here.”

Incredibly impactful’

Tsai CITY was established in 2017 and Yale Ventures — which dramatically expanded on work already being done at the university to support business development — in 2022. Both offer resources and guidance for people looking to start new ventures or get involved in existing organizations. They also create opportunities for community-building and celebrate the accomplishments of those working to bring their ideas into the world.

The effect of this support network is clear.

From 2013 to 2023, the numbers of both U.S. and international patents issued to Yale faculty per year doubled, while the number of new startups nearly tripled; seventy Yale startups have raised over $5.4 billion in capital over the last seven years. Yale-associated startups include companies developing new treatments for disease (for humans and dogs), novel devices, and climate change solutions.

By the numbers: Yale innovation and entrepreneurship

Ideas & Entrepreneurship, 2013–2023: 583 U.S. patents, 1282 international patents, and 105 startups

Yale Ventures offers guidance on protecting intellectual property, licensing technology, company formation, raising external funding, and corporate research collaborations. It also offers funding and mentorship to faculty through the Blavatnik Fund for Innovation, the Roberts Innovation Fund, the Colton Center for Autoimmunity, and the Center for Biomedical Innovation and Technology. And in its largest event of the year — the Yale Innovation Summit — Yale Ventures brings together innovators, investors, and industry representatives working in the arts, biotechnology, climate, health, and technology. This year’s summit attracted 2,200 attendees from over 1,400 organizations.

2024 Yale Innovations Summit
2024 Yale Innovation Summit (Photo by Stephanie Anestis)

Yale Ventures will soon move to its permanent offices in 101 College St., a new building in downtown New Haven that will also house life sciences firms and a biotechnology startup incubator supported by Yale.

Since its launch, Tsai CITY has supported an estimated 12,000 students — undergraduates and graduate students — and 1,000 projects. The center’s new building, which opened in 2022, was to key to doing so, says Clare Leinweber, executive director of Tsai CITY. The building is part of an innovation corridor on Prospect and Hillhouse, which also includes the Yale Center for Engineering Innovation and Design and the Greenberg Teaching Concourse of the School of Engineering & Applied Science.

It has been incredibly impactful for us to have a dedicated space, centrally located, easy to find, that’s an attractive place for students to come, meet up, and work,” said Leinweber. “It was a really strong signal to students that Yale is behind them, wants to see them succeed, and wants to provide them with resources to do so.”

And students have noticed, she said.

Students are aware of Tsai CITY before they even arrive on campus, and, in some cases, it’s part of their calculation to come to Yale,” said Leinweber.

Tsai CITY’s lineup of programs includes workshops, semester-long intensives, and its venture development sequence — Launch Pad, Accelerator, and the Summer Fellowship. Students have access to a mentorship program and community-building events. And funding is available in the form of small grants or entrepreneurship prizes awarded through Startup Yale, which distributed over $150,000 to student startups this year.

These programs, together with others on campus, such as the Center for Business and the Environment (CBEY), the Center for Engineering Innovation and Design, and Innovate Health Yale, create a network of innovation support that now extends throughout campus and touches every school and department, says Stuart DeCew, executive director of CBEY.

All of these centers play different roles, but they’ve all grown together during the time that President Salovey has been in office,” said DeCew. “In many respects, they have been developed to fulfill a need in the Yale innovation ecosystem. Now they act as beacons for students and faculty who are interested in this type of work.”

Expanding innovation and growth

In Davenport College, one of Yale College’s 14 residential colleges, a basement room has been transformed into an “innovation studio.” The space has become a small portal to creative exploration — with neat workbenches lined with tools for sewing, leatherworking, painting, woodworking, soldering, and 3-D printing.

Students creating garments using the sewing equipment in the Davenport Innovation Studio.
Students creating garments using the sewing equipment in the Davenport Innovation Studio. (Photo courtesy of Tsai CITY)

Gonzalez, the Tsai CITY faculty director — who also happens to be head of Davenport College — conceived of the space as a way for students to take time out of their busy schedules to informally work on an idea.

It was also another way to create access for students who might not otherwise see themselves as innovators — a key part of Yale’s innovation support. Gonzalez sees that as well in the breadth of majors represented by students attending a Tsai CITY event. “That’s when you know these ideas are permeating,” she said.

Part of President Salovey’s legacy, says Gonzalez, is having given voice to people who typically would not feel they had one.

He’s shown that when you do that, when you bring people in, good things come, good collaborations happen, spaces can be made better,” she said. “He didn’t have to do that, but it shows he’s a forward-thinking leader.”

Including students from across campus has been one of Tsai CITY’s goals from its inception.

Our mission is to inspire students from diverse backgrounds and disciplines to seek innovative ways to solve real-world problems,” said Leinweber. “And I think Yale got that really right. We’ve taken this mission very seriously and every year we look at the demographic information of the students we’re supporting as well as what schools the students are coming from. And we’ve done an excellent job establishing that diversity, which we’re really proud of.”

More broadly, Geballe sees success in the positive impact an expanding innovation ecosystem has on Yale’s home city. “Under President Salovey, Yale has built an incredible foundation for decades of additional growth and impact,” he said.

A decade ago, most of the startup companies that would spin out of Yale would establish themselves in bigger cities where they could find the lab space and talent they needed to grow, says Geballe.

Today, most startup companies actually stay in New Haven,” he said. “That’s due to Yale’s support for commercial lab space, like 101 College St., and for incubators, such as BioLabs and ClimateHaven.”

101 College Street exterior
101 College St. (Photo by Dan Renzetti)

Now it’s easier than ever for Yale innovators to conceptualize and develop an idea on campus, use Yale resources to get initial funding, and then establish new business ventures in New Haven, contributing to the economic development of Yale’s home city as they do — all strengthened by the university’s partnerships with New Haven Mayor Justin Elicker, the Chamber of Commerce, and the Community Foundation for Greater New Haven, among others.

Craig Crews, the John C. Malone Professor of Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology, knows this well. He has established three companies in New Haven — Halda Therapeutics, Siduma Therapeutics, and Arvinas. Ranjit Bindra, the Harvey and Kate Cushing Professor of Therapeutic Radiology, not only launched his most recent startup in New Haven, but also relocated another of his firms from New York.

Craig Crews
Yale’s Craig M. Crews, a pioneer in the pharmaceutical field of targeted protein degradation, has launched four different companies based on his research. (Photo by Allie Barton)

That move was made possible by the city’s growing number of research spaces, including facilities like 101 College St. and the Elm City Bioscience Center, which were championed by Yale, Yale innovators, and the city.

It’s yet another goal that Salovey articulated in early in his tenure. “We must bolster economic development and create employment opportunities here in New Haven by putting our innovative, entrepreneurial inclinations to work,” he said in 2013.

He’s done that, says Geballe.

President Salovey’s leadership, the deep relationships that he’s built with the city and with state leaders have enabled the growth of New Haven’s infrastructure,” said Geballe. “It’s another incredible element of his legacy.”

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