Johns Hopkins FastForward accelerator fuels promising startup businesses

In first year, 9 startups were accepted by School of Engineering incubator

When the Whiting School of Engineering at Johns Hopkins University launched FastForward, it did so with the goal of nurturing the valuable intellectual property flowing out of the school and fostering a spirit of entrepreneurship across the campus, modeled on the environment of Silicon Valley.

In its first year, FastForward has lived up to its promise and the spirit of its name. To date, the program has considered some 65 applications, accepting nine startups into its space in the historic and newly renovated Stieff Silver Building, just a mile from the Homewood Campus. The industrial era building was constructed in 1928, but has been newly renovated to deliver 21st-century services. Shared equipment and lab space, so often a major barrier for engineering and life sciences companies, is state-of-the-art at FastForward.

Companies sponsored so far include the developer of a simpler, less-expensive way to separate carbon nanotubes into metallic and semiconducting types for use in next generation computer chips and electronics. Another startup speeds the publication of valuable-but-time-consuming gene libraries that help researchers look for new drugs to treat serious diseases.

"Our goal at FastForward is to get these great Johns Hopkins ideas off the ground," says John Fini, director of the technology accelerator. "This is important for the university, but it's also key to the economic development of Baltimore and the region, because startups tend to stay where they were founded."

Beyond physical space and equipment, FastForward provides a boost of a different, perhaps more valuable, sort. It comes in the form of legal and business advice necessary to wend through the maze of challenges that all startups must navigate—precisely the sort of knowledge and skills many engineers lack. FastForward business and legal advisors help sponsored companies evaluate their intellectual property, shape winning business plans, and foster sound business decisions.

"It's exciting to be part of this small community," Fini says, "to work with people who are brilliant and to think of helping to drive outcomes with the potential to impact thousands if not millions of people."