PROVIDENCE – A nonprofit dubbed the Food Innovation Nexus that has seven-figure funding from Johnson & Wales University is in its start-up phase and plans to launch formally in January, Michael Allio, a co-founder, confirmed Tuesday.
Laurie White, president of the Greater Providence Chamber of Commerce, announced the news at the chamber’s annual meeting Monday night as an example of the “intersection” of industries like food and medicine that the chamber plans to help market and promote through its new website, www.GreaterRI.com.
In a phone interview Tuesday, Allio confirmed some details, including that the nonprofit is located at 1 Park Row in the Wayland Building, off campus but near not only JWU but also the Rhode Island School of Design, Brown University and startup companies in the area like Edesia, which makes fortified foods that help counteract malnutrition.
He declined to say exactly how much JWU has invested, but noted that the nonprofit, which is still being formed, is looking for more sponsors.
Allio’s fellow co-founders are Kenneth Levy, senior vice president of special projects at JWU, and Stephen Lane, co-founder and chief venture officer of Ximedica, a medical-device manufacturer.
“This is an independent, not-for-profit organization exploring innovation at the intersection of food and medicine,” Allio said. “We do three things here: research; sponsored, private industry-engaged research to solve a particular problem or challenge; and accelerating entrepreneurship. We might have clients like Edesia; we’ve talked to them about how to accelerate products in this area.”
One client they do have already is a for-profit startup from this region that Allio can’t yet name. The startup has licensed technology out of a major university and is on the path to commercializing a product it has developed for a pre-surgical treatment where the food is the medicine, he said.
The organization is building a collaborative team of full-time and contract staff across disciplines including not only food and science, but also marketing, designing, nutrition and innovation, Allio said.
“Our goal is to innovate and make great products – products that produce revenue,” he said.
The aim is to reinvest the surplus in nonprofit growth and contribute back to JWU funds to feed their scholarship programs, he said. The Food Innovation Nexus’ location in Providence, within walking distance of the three colleges, is intentional.
“We wanted to be right downtown,” Allio said. “What we’re planning to do is stimulate and catalyze collaboration between those schools and others.”
Likewise, the state’s small size is an advantage, he said.
“It could almost only happen here,” he explained, “that you can have this alignment of stars and we can secure the kind of talent expertise and the ability to get market and clinical validation quickly. We can test new products and ideas through partners like CVS or Lifespan and get access to talent through [the University of Rhode Island] and Brown and other schools.”
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