UMass Boston’s Venture Development Center Hits $1 Billion Funding Milestone

Office of Communications | Tue May 7, 2019

The Venture Development Center (VDC) at the University of Massachusetts Boston has supported 102 start-up companies now employing 1,128 people, helped them raise more than $1 billion in investments, and engaged nearly 2,000 students over the 10 years since its inception, the center announced today on its anniversary. 

“Our students, faculty and entrepreneurs can be proud of having built something that has made a meaningful contribution to both economic growth and opportunity in Massachusetts,” said William Brah, the founder and director of the self-funding VDC, which topped $1 million in annual revenue for the first time this year.

“Ensuring that historically underrepresented students benefit from Greater Boston’s ever-growing innovation economy is one of my highest priorities,” noted Interim Chancellor Katherine Newman.  “The center has led the way in establishing these connections and deserves our admiration for all it has done to foster the region’s economy.” 

Among its recent success stories are PillPack, the online pharmacy acquired by Amazon last year for almost $1 billion, and SQZ Biotech, which has a development agreement with pharmaceutical giant Roche worth up to $1 billion. SQZ, whose technology helps the body’s immune system fight cancer, has grown from five employees when it was launched at the center to 105 today.

“The VDC has been my go-to partner in Boston for civic and business innovation,” said Jeff Bussgang, general partner at Flybridge Partners, a venture capital investment firm. “The runaway success is 100 percent due to the VDC’s unique blend of visionary leadership and flawless execution.” 

Since its opening, the center has provided UMass Boston students with internships at participating firms, workshops, courses, and seminars. The center urges companies to hire UMass Boston students.

“For many students, the center represented the first exposure to startup culture and solving real-world tech problems, and the insight and experience the entrepreneurs are lending is invaluable,” said computer science major Kristen Laird.

Marc Pomplun, chair of the Computer Science Department, said he has turned several times to the center for the undergraduate capstone course Introduction to Software Engineering. “The center’s entrepreneurs have been a huge benefit to our students and to me. They have made courses more interesting and more relevant,” he said.

Other milestones reached by the center over the past decade include:

  • In 2015, the center became the first university program to start facilitating visas for foreign science, engineering, and business graduate students seeking to create startups after completing their degrees.
  • When the region recognized the diversity crisis in the tech industry, the New England Venture Capital Association turned to the UMass Boston student body to launch Hack.Diversity in 2017. Twenty-nine UMass Boston students have been selected so far as fellows.
  • eGenesis founder Luhan Yang tapped undergraduate biology student Haydy George to help her with a published piece in the journal Science, which led to a $38 million investment in the company.
  • CloudHealth Technologies brought on business graduate Gabriela Veloz who was promoted to a leadership role months after joining.
  • When Dan Phillips was entrepreneur-in-residence at the center, he cofounded CloudHealth Technologies, which was ultimately acquired by VMware for $530 million. After the acquisition, Phillips returned to UMass Boston to create a scholarship and mentoring program for students. “UMass Boston students are exactly the type I like to hire at my companies. They have been exceptional,” Phillips said.

In 2009, the center renovated an 18,000-square-foot former student cafeteria in the Wheatley Building into award-winning R&D space where the center now operates.  The unique flexible term labs have helped more than a dozen highly promising entrepreneurs make the leap from their academic environments to launch companies. The center now hosts 31 startup companies, including Marigold Health, Aday Technologies and AirWorks. 

The center expects to play a significant role in the creation of new research facilities in and around Columbia Point, including those related to the redevelopment of the former Bayside Exposition Center.

To learn more about the Venture Development Center, visit vdc.umb.edu.

About UMass Boston
The University of Massachusetts Boston is deeply rooted in the city’s history yet poised to address the challenges of the future. Recognized for innovative research, metropolitan Boston’s public university, a minority serving institution, offers its diverse student population both an intimate learning environment and the rich experience of a great American city. UMass Boston’s 10 colleges and graduate schools serve more than 16,000 students while engaging local and global constituents through academic programs, research centers, and public service. To learn more, visit www.umb.edu.