The Tata Center for Technology and Design has launched a new Translational Research Program to identify and accelerate promising projects into scalable solutions with positive societal impact in the developing world. These solutions may be implemented through newly formed startups, licensing, or open source platforms.
The program is being directed by Jason Prapas, who joined MIT last August. Prapas is a mechanical engineer with a background in energy research, technology development, and venture capital. Prior to joining the Tata Center, he co-founded a venture development firm, Factor[e] Ventures, which provides technology entrepreneurs with seed capital and mentorship to build successful social enterprises.
“The Tata Center has provided research support to an incredible group of faculty, graduate students, postdocs, and researchers for the past six years. The Translational Research Program aims to close the gap between ideas and implementation by providing a select set of the center’s projects with further resources to reach scale in underserved communities,” Prapas says.
These resources include funding for identifying the right partners, performing techno-economic analysis to assess risks and opportunities, and facilitating other technical and business advisory functions like piloting, market research, and intellectual property development.
“We actively guide our researchers through the process of getting their innovations out of the lab and into the world. Each case is specific, but the process can include market discovery field visits, business model development, technology roadmaps, early manufacturing support, validation studies, assembling a team of cofounders, and fundraising support,” Prapas adds.
One such project involves the work of MIT Professor Lee Gehrke and research scientist Irene Bosch, from the Institute for Medical Engineering and Science, who have been working closely with the center on implementation pathways for their research in rapid diagnostics for flaviviruses, such as dengue and Zika. Their work is being spun out of MIT through a new life sciences startup, E25Bio.
“The Tata Center’s Translational Research Program has been instrumental in moving our technology toward commercialization and market availability. In addition to research support, the Tata Center has introduced us to leaders in academia, pharma, and industry, and these interactions have opened doors and accelerated progress. Without the Tata Center, it is quite possible that we would not be in active discussions about bringing the technology to large numbers of patients,” Gehrke says.
The Translational Research Program is currently advancing more than a dozen projects, which span all of the center’s sector areas: health, energy, environment, housing, agriculture, and water. Half of these projects are being converted into social enterprises, while the rest will be launched through licenses to strategic partners or open source proliferation.
The Tata Center was founded in 2012 with generous support from the Tata Trusts, one of India’s oldest philanthropic organizations. Since its inception in 1919, the Tata Trusts have pioneered transforming traditional ideas of charity and introducing the concept of philanthropy to make a real difference to communities. Through grant-making, direct implementation and co-partnership strategies, the trusts support and drive innovation in the areas of natural resources management; education; health care and nutrition; rural livelihoods; enhancing civil society and governance; media, arts, crafts and culture; and diversified employment.