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A new type of incubator with extra oomph

Scientists and academics often start companies around new technologies, but they lack the business experience and funding to keep them afloat. A specialized incubator may help.

Traditionally, incubators provide low-cost space, back-office support, and mentoring to startups. But some supercharged ones, typically backed by venture capital firms, will start and run the company until the technology has proven itself. "It's like an incubator on steroids," says Dinah Adkins, president of the National Business Incubation Assn.

In 2005, the Foundry, a pioneer among the new incubators, spun off Forsight Labs to develop devices to combat eye diseases. And the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill recently announced it will create an Innovation Center that will launch companies based on university research and technology from local entrepreneurs. "What's different is you have a focused management team and early investors with deep enough pockets to provide follow-on rounds of financing," says Mark Crowell, associate vice-chancellor for economic development and technology transfer at UNC at Chapel Hill. That center is expected to open in 2009.

The model isn't entirely new. The Foundry in Menlo Park, Calif., has been starting medical device companies since 1998, and Accelerator was formed in 2003 in Seattle to foster biotech companies. More such incubators are expected to spring up as investors recognize that with savvy management, more startups will survive.

By Amy Barrett

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