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Posted: Apr 17, 2013
Breakout Labs Funds Two Companies Creating Radically Distinct Interfaces Between Biology and Technology
(Nanowerk News) The Thiel Foundation announced today the first Breakout Labs awards of 2013 to two early-stage companies working to bridge the gap dividing human beings and technology in unique ways: SkyPhrase, Inc. and Stealth Biosciences.
SkyPhrase is helping computers to understand human language with greater precision than ever before. Anyone who has tried to ferret out complex ideas through simple search queries knows that computers are ill-equipped to cope with the flexibility and efficiency of human language. Two competing approaches have dominated research in natural language processing: those that rely on statistical, context-independent approaches and those that rely on logical reasoning. Leaping over this artificial divide, the SkyPhrase team conceived of a unique technology that integrates the strengths of logical and biologically-inspired statistical approaches. With the help of Breakout Labs funding, they are creating a platform for searching, accessing, analyzing and monitoring data that relies on natural language.
“Our goal is to help scientists, engineers, businesses and consumers use data more efficiently and powerfully,” said SkyPhrase Founder and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute Professor, Nick Cassimatis. “Our approach will make it significantly cheaper and simpler to glean important insights from broad and heterogeneous sources of data.”
Turning from cognitive to molecular bridges, Breakout Labs is also funding Stealth Biosciences to develop nanoscale devices that can measure and exert control over biological processes at the level of single cells. Stanford University professors Nick Melosh and Craig Garner developed two nanomaterial technologies – Nanostraws and Stealth Probes – that provide direct, non-destructive electrical and fluidic access to cells. Stealth’s devices represent a highly sensitive toolset for research, therapeutic, and diagnostic applications, including: high-throughput drug discovery, regenerative medicine, oncology, and neuroscience.
“We are excited about the potential of our nanotechnologies for biological research and disease treatment,” said Stealth CEO Ari Chaney. “Thanks to the vision of Breakout Labs, we can now concentrate on building Nanostraw devices that can be used to reprogram T-cells for cancer therapy, produce stem cells efficiently and safely, or create a set of stapled-peptide drug candidates. In parallel, we are developing the first paired-cell recording system using Stealth Probes to put in the hands of leading researchers. This technology holds great promise for solving the mysteries of CNS diseases as well as their treatment, and could serve an important role in the BRAIN initiative recently announced by President Obama.”
Founded in November 2011, Breakout Labs has funded 14 companies in areas ranging from food science and biomedicine to clean energy. For many of these companies, Breakout Labs was the first external investor. Breakout Labs provides up to $350,000 to early-stage companies with cutting-edge technologies to achieve specific milestones that are necessary to attract further support, thereby bridging a critical funding gap in commercial development. Several Breakout Labs’ recipients have since received additional funding through investment or government grants.
“Coming out of our first year, we are excited by our early signs of success and pleased to renew our commitment to driving scientific entrepreneurship through philanthropy,” said Breakout Labs Executive Director, Lindy Fishburne. “The first companies to be awarded Breakout Labs funding in 2013 are both co-founded by professors from prestigious universities, reflecting a growing and much welcome interest from the academic community in commercialization.”
Breakout Labs, the newest program of the Thiel Foundation, does not make typical foundation grants—it is a revolutionary, revolving funding model through which successful projects fund the next generation of daring technological innovation. Breakout Labs is reshaping the way early-stage R&D is funded, by providing support for young companies to advance their most radical ideas. Successful grantees will return a capped royalty stream and a small percentage of equity in their company to Breakout Labs and, thereby, contribute to the next generation of scientific innovation. For more information, see www.BreakoutLabs.org.
About The Thiel Foundation
The Thiel Foundation defends and promotes freedom in all its dimensions: political, personal, and economic. The Thiel Foundation supports innovative scientific research and new technologies that empower people to improve their lives, champions organizations and individuals who expose human rights abuses and authoritarianism in all its guises, and encourages the exploration of new ideas and new spaces where people can be less reliant on government and where freedom can flourish. For more information, see www.ThielFoundation.org.