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The Harvard Grid Accelerator awarded funding last month to five Harvard-led research projects aiming to bring innovative technologies to the market.
The five recipients are an artificial intelligence-assisted design project, a fast drug-resistance test, an emission-free refrigerant, a wearable to aid stroke rehab, and a gene discovery startup. The Harvard Grid was established in September 2022 as a joint project between the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences and the Harvard Office of Technology Development.
Paul N. Hayre, the accelerator’s executive director, said the Grid’s mission is to facilitate the commercialization of scientific and academic research in order “to reduce the activation energy to lift more ideas from lab to market.”
Hayre said he believes the Grid is different from other initiatives because it specializes in providing opportunities for “translating tough tech.”
“We’re not so much designed to help facilitate the Mark Zuckerbergs in their dorm room who want to launch a software app,” he said. “There’s a lot of resources, and I think students have been finding their merry way to do that quite effectively. That’s not to say we wouldn't support someone who came knocking on the door of the Grid to support that.”
Assistant professor of Chemistry and Chemical Biology Jarad Mason — who leads the research project developing a new class of solid refrigerants to enable emission-free cooling — said the Grid Accelerator is an important source of funding for industry-oriented research.
“In the physical sciences and hard sciences, tough technology space, I would say, there historically have been much more limited opportunities for that kind of funding and the Harvard Grid Accelerator fills in that gap,” Mason said.
Juanjuan Zheng, a SEAS postdoctoral fellow leading research to create a system for fast drug-resistance testing, wrote in a statement that the Grid’s funding and expertise will be “instrumental” for the project’s next steps.
“In partnership with colleagues from Harvard’s teaching hospitals, we aim to utilize the support from the Grid to showcase our method across a wide range of real-world bacterial samples and anti-bacterial drugs,” Zheng wrote.
Yunha Hwang, an Organismic and Evolutionary Biology Ph.D. candidate spearheading the project that analyzes genomes through language models, said the Grid provided an opportunity to combine research and industry techniques.
“Grid was a great opportunity for us to learn about how to build a business model using technology that is still developing,” she said.
The Grid Accelerator is a rebranded and extended version of the Physical Sciences and Engineering Accelerator, which was founded in 2013. Alan Gordon, the director of business development at OTD, has headed the accelerator since its founding.
“Previously, with the Physical Sciences Accelerator, we were typically funding about three projects a year,” Gordon said.
Gordon added that the Grid is intended to bolster research from across multiple schools and divisions within Harvard.
“It was important to us that the Grid is also a resource for entrepreneurial-minded faculty and students in the sciences throughout the University,” he said. “So in the accelerator, a couple of the projects that were funded are with faculty in FAS in the division of Science, not specifically in the School of Engineering.”
Hayre said in addition to providing annual awards, the Grid has a small fund to allocate to promising research projects outside of the regular grant timeline.
“Research doesn’t work on an annual schedule where once a year, you wake up and all of a sudden you’re ready to submit,” Hayre said.
“My goal certainly is to find partners and donors that would say, ‘This is important to SEAS, it’s important to Harvard, it’s something that is showing impact, and we’d like to support it,’” he added.
Correction: March 11, 2023
A previous version of this article misquoted Grid Accelerator Executive Direction Paul N. Hayre as referencing “the Mark Zuckerberg kids in their dorm room.” In fact, Hayre said “Mark Zuckerbergs in their dorm room.”
—Staff writer Edona Cosovic can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
—Staff writer Mert Geyiktepe can be reached at email@example.com.
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