Tulane University has committed to a multimillion-dollar, long-term plan to create a hub for entrepreneurs in New Orleans that will eventually be located at the former Charity Hospital, where the university has signed a lease to anchor the space after it is redeveloped.
The Tulane Innovation Institute is working to attract more than $100 million to bring the project to market. Startups could spawn from both the university and innovators across the New Orleans region.
Located at 1315 Gravier St., its initial headquarters will be at the ground level of Tulane’s new Thirteen15 residential development in the former Warwick Hotel. Tulane hopes the Institute leads to a self-sustaining entrepreneurial ecosystem – a STEM-focused startup accelerator for university faculty, researchers, staff and students and members of the local community.
Beyond providing funding for critical stages of startups, the strategy aims to diversify New Orleans’ economy, which is heavily dependent on tourism, with new technology, inventions and manufacturing.
The initiative also could provide more incentive for local college graduates to remain in the area. At Tulane, where 10% of students are from Louisiana, 40% remain in the region after graduation, according to the university.
Tulane President Michael Fitts said the project follows the university’s 50% growth in research over the past few years, with $200 million spent annually.
“It’s in areas that are really quite important in our society – like biomedical, environmental, neuroscience, health disparities…and infectious disease,” he said. “These are areas that are so important and have potential for startups.”
The Institute is a part of Tulane’s plan to expand in the downtown area. Landlocked at its Uptown campus, the university now has 17 buildings downtown and aims to put 600 researchers at the former Charity Hospital.
“We see (downtown) is where the research is going to be located,” Fitts said.
Major donors to the Institute include Tulane alumni. Robert Priddy, a 1969 graduate, funded much of the Robert L. Priddy Innovation Lab through his family foundation. The Lab will be the main engine of the Institute, providing proof-of-concept and early-stage startup gap funding for budding entrepreneurs.
Another donation came from Tulane board member David Mussafer and his wife, Marion. This has established the David and Marion Mussafer Innovation Funds to support programming and staff. The Institute’s managing executive will be known as the David and Marion Mussafer Chief Innovation and Entrepreneurship Officer. A national search is nearing completion, according to a news release.
Other supporters include Tulane board member David Barksdale and his wife Stephanie, board chair Carol Bernick, emeritus board member Walter and Cathy Isaacson, and Jeffrey and Amy Silverman.
Fitts did not disclose the exact dollar amount that has been already raised but said it was in the “multiple millions of dollars.” There is enough funding to “launch it at this point in a successful way,” he added.
“It’s all philanthropy paying for this,” Fitts said. “We had a target of what we thought was necessary to launch this and exceeded that target. Ongoing, this has the potential to be huge for not only Tulane but (also) New Orleans.”
Once launched, he hopes the Institute will be self-sustainable. It is moving into the Gravier Street space within the next six months and plans to move to Charity in 2025, where Tulane has signed a long-term lease.
More philanthropic support is needed to maximize the Institute’s potential, the university said. It ancipates a large return on investments and says the Priddy Innovation Lab will invest millions of dollars in grants and direct investment to startups during its first five years. Over time, it anticipates having an equity stake in dozens of startups and expects to garner more than $100 million in capital to the region.
Plans are in order for an advisory council formed by Tulane alumni, parents and friends around the globe. A mentoring and consulting network is also being formed for volunteers.
The Institute’s partners inside Tulane will include the Taylor Center, the Albert Lepage Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation, the Scot Ackerman MakerSpace, the Office of Technology Transfer and Intellectual Property and the Tulane National Primate Research Center.
Local entities such as The Idea Village and the New Orleans BioInnovation Center, as well as statewide economic development groups, will also be involved.