A top research and entrepreneurship official at UConn says Connecticut has the opportunity to jump to the forefront of the cannabis industry’s startup scene.
Abhijit (Jit) Banerjee, UConn’s associate vice president for research, innovation and entrepreneurship, said he thinks state funding for a limited-time incubator for UConn staff and faculty working in the cannabis space could yield innovative companies in the emerging legal marijuana market.
UConn already has a number of faculty working on cannabis-related research — in fields ranging from horticulture to genetics — and funding an incubator would encourage them to start companies, Banerjee said. It could also show investors that UConn cannabis startups are worth seeding.
“Just imagine that if we had a dedicated incubator with a program that is leading only to cannabis and cannabis-related companies,” Banerjee said. “You’re automatically influencing the investors to say, ‘let’s go to UConn because now they have infrastructure, they have the dedicated incubator, they have everything there.’”
Banerjee said if the Department of Economic and Community Development (DECD) and quasi-public entrepreneurship booster, CTNext, created a $5 million startup fund for UConn cannabis researchers the state could see a slate of serious, innovative marijuana-related companies emerge from the university.
UConn could run the incubator for three to five years, track the program’s results and then make the call on whether to continue it, Banerjee said.
“What I’m asking for is a pool of money that would allow us to have a very focused investment in this particular area so that we are actually measuring the success over a period of time, no more than five years,” Banerjee said.
UConn is hosting an increasing amount of cannabis commercialization work, Banerjee said. UConn’s Technology Incubation Program (TIP) is currently housing cannabis company 3BC, which isolates cannabinoids in hemp, and will soon add another industry startup.
Meanwhile, UConn researchers are working with a major cannabis company on a project to alter plant genetics to produce marijuana with higher CBD content, said Banerjee, who declined to identify the company.
Banerjee says eager cannabis-industry investors would be especially interested in startups out of UConn, a nationally-known research university. At the same time, UConn researchers would be more willing to establish companies if they had financial backing.
“It is a matter of encouraging the faculty to take that risk by saying, ‘we are behind you, we are putting up the money, and we are saying that it can happen,’ “ Banerjee said.