$5.25 million raised for venture capital

February 06, 1991|By David Conn

Triad Investors Corp., the venture-capital company started by a branch of the Johns Hopkins University, announced yesterday that it had secured $5.25 million from investors to develop commercially viable technology -- primarily from the university -- and get it into the marketplace.

The investors include a British-based venture-capital group; the university and Johns Hopkins Health System; and two private Baltimore companies, Constellation Holdings Inc., a Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. subsidiary, and Whiting-Turner Contracting Co.

None of the parties would say exactly how much money each invested in Triad, but the Hopkins institutions together will own a majority of the stock.

Triad originally planned to raise $10 million to $20 million and find heads of national manufacturing companies for its board of directors. But the company fell victim to the faltering economy and the novelty of the concept, according to investors and Hopkins officials.

"That was just very difficult to sell," said Jared Cohon, the university's vice provost for research. "The downturn in the economy caught up with us."

Investors also were shy about putting their money into an untested concept, according to Allan R. Ferguson, senior vice president of 3i Ventures Corp., a Boston subsidiary of the British 3i Group, one of the world's largest private sources of venture capital and a Triad investor.

Mr. Ferguson said some potential investors were scared away by the slim chance of a short-term return on their money.

Triad also announced it has split off from its original parent, the Dome Corp., which is jointly owned by the university and the Hopkins Health System. Triad now is a separate corporation, owned by its five investors. Andre W. Brewster, general partner of the Baltimore law firm of Piper & Marbury, has been named chairman of Triad.

Triad's former president, Leigh Abts, has taken the titles of executive vice president and chief operating officer, and the board of directors is searching for a new president and chief executive officer, Mr. Cohon said. "What this reflects is really Leigh using his talents to the greatest advantage, which is being hands-on with projects, rather than running things overall."

Triad not only will funnel money to projects deemed potentially marketable but will work with all the university's licensing offices to identify those projects, help develop a business plan and assemble a management team, Mr. Cohon said.

The effort to move technology out of the labs and into the market has taken on new urgency in the last few years at Hopkins, one of the world's foremost institutions for basic and applied research, with $750 million a year in sponsored research.

Some observers say Hopkins faculty members have prided themselves on sticking to research, slighting commercial applications, but "Triad has put a dent" in the anti-commercialization attitude, Mr. Cohon said.

At the same time, scientists who aren't interested in getting out of the lab will be able to leave business development to Triad, he said. "Triad represents a way for us to be more efficient in technology transfer without changing the fundamental nature of Hopkins."

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