The BioBuzz on… UM Ventures and Jim Hughes

November 18, 2013

Leader: James L. (Jim) Hughes, Director, UM Ventures

Jim Hughes

Location: Baltimore and College Park, MD

Started in: 2012


Launched in 2012 by the University System of Maryland Board of Regents and the Governor of Maryland, UM Ventures is accelerating technology commercialization and advancing industry collaboration by integrating the entrepreneurial programs of UMB and UMCP.

Goal: To channel the tremendous technical resources and research expertise of the University of Maryland – engaging partners in industry and social ventures to expand the University’s real-world impact

Customers: Faculty entrepreneurs, student entrepreneurs, corporate partners, business incubators

Sampling of Startups: Diagnostic anSERSMaryland Energy and Technology Systems (MEST), LLCAnalytical InformaticsSilcsBio


A year ago, James L. Hughes, M.B.A., vice president and chief enterprise and economic development officer at University of Maryland, Baltimore (UMB), was named director of University of Maryland Ventures (UM Ventures), the ambitious joint research commercialization effort of UMB and University of Maryland, College Park (UMCP), and a central part of the MPowering the State initiative. Here, we talk with Jim about the UM Ventures effort and the goal of fueling university-driven start-ups and research.

Q&A with Jim Hughes

In your role leading the UM Ventures effort, tell us what most invigorates you about start-ups coming out of UMB and UMCP and how UM Ventures helps facilitate getting start-ups off the ground.

For me, it’s the convergence of exciting technologies coming from the universities plus very creative faculty and the identification of experienced entrepreneurs to lead new start-up companies.

In addition, we have put together a strong network of senior faculty mentors – known as Site Miners – who spend time with faculty and help to ferret out the best ideas and to give advice on the pros and cons in being involved in start-ups. We also have several excellent Entrepreneurs-in-Residence (EIRs), experienced business people who have run and worked for start-ups. Bringing private sector perspective to an effort coming out of academia is very important. Two of our EIRs are Rahul Singhvi who focuses on therapeutics, infectious diseases and vaccines and Robert “Bob” Storey to help focus on medical devices.

What role do the translational research/MII awards play in fueling the start-up effort?

The Maryland Innovation Initiative (MII) was created as a partnership between the State of Maryland and five Maryland academic research institutions (including UMB and UMCP). The program promotes commercialization of research conducted in the partnership universities and leverages each institution’s strengths.

To date, UM Ventures has won close to $2M worth of these awards via grants of $100K to $125K. I’m proud to say we’ve won 13 awards in the last six to seven months across faculty members at UMB and UMCP. These awards are moving discoveries from university labs closer to the marketplace.

In addition, we’ve won another six awards across both campuses for our start-up companies. These awards are extremely helpful to companies in first phase of development when funding is very hard to come by.

UM Baltimore and MedImmune recently kicked off a partnership to conduct drug development research together. How does this fit within UM Ventures? Is it a unique public-private partnership – and if so, in what way?

I’m very excited by this partnership! All projects within the agreement are jointly conceived – in other words, all funded projects will have a champion at MedImmune and a champion at the University. This helps to foster great interaction between research teams. Faculty from UMBC and College Park are also involved. It’s collaborative from the very beginning and each step of the way, which is a core value of UM Ventures.

Furthermore, this is different than the typical model of a single university researcher entering into a research agreement with an external company. The five-year agreement and dual champions allow for a more strategic relationship. We hope to do a dozen or more projects together.

As a large academic university system, the University of Maryland works with pharmaceutical companies and biotechnology companies around the world. It’s rewarding to have our most meaningful public-private partnership with a company based right here in Maryland. I greatly appreciate MedImmune’s Dr. Bahija Jallal for having the vision to be a true research and commercialization anchor in this state.

What can you tell us about the “next big thing” we can expect to come from UM Ventures?

Traditionally most of the technologies coming from UMB have been therapeutic or diagnostic in nature. In the last few years, we’ve had more focus on surgical devices with great technologies coming from our surgeons (who are some of the leading experts in their fields. We will announce a new Maryland-based, medical device company with great potential in the near future.

In addition, the depth of the relationship between the Schools of Medicine, Pharmacy and Dentistry at UMB and the School of Engineering at College Park is helping to bring clinicians and engineers together to work on medical devices and instruments. We’ve initiated a lecture series that brings engineering experts to UMB to talk about this convergence to further allow for networking and information sharing. All of this is leading to new commercialization opportunities.

Among the start-ups and companies with ties to UMB, which might be on the cusp of the next big medical breakthrough?

One company that quickly comes to mind is Gliknik Inc. What began as a start-up company seven years ago has matured into an organization that just signed a significant licensing agreement with Pfizer to help accelerate the development of a drug candidate targeting many autoimmune indications. Another company, Tokai, is developing a drug targeting treatment of prostate cancer – this drug was invented by two faculty members here at UMB and recently entered Phase 2 clinical trials. Another good one is Alba Therapeutics, which is finishing up a Phase 2 trial for a drug candidate targeting celiac disease. We’re following these companies closely and hope that they will succeed in bringing these drugs to market.

What advice would you offer to university researchers looking to start a company?

First and foremost, we have a great deal of resources at the university. We have faculty who have done it before and can advise you. We also have strong tech transfer offices that can help with patent protection, marketing information and other resources. There are people here – within the UM Ventures infrastructure – who can help.

Second, we want our researchers to continue to do their important work within the university. Thus, we can match you up with experienced entrepreneurs who can run your company while you maintain your faculty position. There are many ways you can advance your discoveries to market while continuing your dedicated work in the clinic.

What advice can you offer to student entrepreneurs?

At College Park, there are many examples of students who have started and run companies. So, if you are inclined to take this route, talk to your advisor and make it happen. There are also opportunities to partner with faculty (for example, you can work in their labs and help create companies). At College Park, there is a big focus on giving every student an entrepreneurial experience.

What else should readers know?

The Smith School of Business and the Carey School of Law complement the outstanding science and technology coming from the universities. The resources at these two schools contribute to helping foster start-ups and entrepreneurialism – both coming from the universities (like many of the examples I’ve previously mentioned) and externally started companies. For example, Martek and Digene both received assistance from UMCP resources during their early days.

Also, connect with UM Ventures team members at local events – both those we host ourselves as well as events sponsored by other organizations, such asEntrepreneur Expo 2013 taking place today. We are sponsors of the Expo, are exhibiting there, and also have a presenter on the agenda. Our team would be happy to talk to you about the startups and technologies coming out of the University of Maryland.

To learn more about UM Ventures, visit


This article is based on a conversation between Mr. Hughes and Jamie Lacey-Moreira in November 2013. If you’d like to recommend a CEO or leader for a BioBuzz profile, please contact Andrew Eckert.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.