Slater Technology Fund head launches new, university-focused venture fund

PROVIDENCE – Rhode Island’s rich university landscape offers fertile ground for innovative, public interest-focused research. But translating those ideas into reality requires money, and that can sometimes be hard for early-stage startups to secure.

Enter RightHill Ventures, a newly launched investment fund aimed at helping university-driven ventures secure initial and later-stage funding to grow their business ideas. The Rhode Island-focused venture fund is the latest project of Thorne Sparkman, who also serves as managing director for Slater Technology Fund.

Indeed, it was Sparkman’s work with Slater, the state’s oldest and most active seed-investment fund, that prompted him to start a new fund focusing specifically on university research-based entrepreneurs and ideas. Nearly one-third of the 150 companies Slater has put seed funding into were started out of Brown University and University of Rhode Island, according to Sparkman.

“The things professors work on are motivational problems,” Sparkman said. “They don’t start social networks, they try to cure cancer and solve global warming.”

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Solving those kinds of problems make for great companies, and Sparkman wants to help those companies succeed. RightHill also builds upon Slater, which primarily offers seed funding to early-stage companies, by providing later-stage funding to university-related companies and entrepreneurs to grow their businesses further.

“Slater Fund is about hacking through the jungle,” Sparkman said. “RightHill Ventures comes and brings other investors when it’s a little more developed. This is about setting companies up getting them over the hump at which point they become investable.”

Sparkman envisions the two venture funds working in concert, with Slater providing initial startup funding and, for university-related companies ready to take it to the next level, RightHill helping to raise a Series A funding round.

Sparkman hopes to invest in five companies through his new fund in the next 2-3 years, though he declined to name which companies he is eyeing. He has also already secured some investors, but did not disclose total funding available.

RightHill is backed by Slater, and will work in partnership with a number of other startup and university organizations, including the Nelson Center for Entrepreneurship, Brown University’s Technology Innovations Office and Biomedical Innovations to Impact Fund, Brown-Lifespan for Digital health, Brown Angel Group, RI Bio and the New England Medical Innovation Center, according to a release.

RightHill also received an initial $300,000 grant from the U.S. Economic Development Administration. 

Nancy Lavin is a staff writer for PBN. Contact her at Lavin@pbn.com.