CMU Launches Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship


Dave Mawhinney and Lenore Blum.

Carnegie Mellon University is bolstering its leadership in turning university research and ideas into commercial enterprises by establishing the Carnegie Mellon Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CIE), which merges the strengths of Project Olympus and the Donald H. Jones Center for Entrepreneurship.

The new CIE will be led jointly by Lenore Blum, founding director of Project Olympus and professor of computer science, and Dave Mawhinney, executive director of the Don Jones Center and assistant teaching professor of entrepreneurship. The CIE has three goals: 1) defining CMU as the “destination of choice” for individuals interested in entrepreneurship; 2) fostering an “inside-out” approach of creating winning commercial ventures from cutting-edge research; and 3) developing an extensive, vibrant network of alumni entrepreneurs.

“The Don Jones Center and Project Olympus have been tremendously successful in helping students and faculty take the crucial first steps in transforming research findings into products and services that people want to buy,” said Mark S. Kamlet, CMU provost and executive vice president and head of the new center’s governing body. “We are excited that the partnership between technology and business as embodied by the new center will create the same synergies we see when our faculty members reach across disciplines — and propel our university, and region, into the entrepreneurial forefront.”

With financial support from the McCune Foundation’s Big Idea program, the CIE will continue the successful programs of the Don Jones Center and Project Olympus, including seasonal Show & Tell events that connect campus researchers with local and national investors, the Open Field Entrepreneurs Fund, incubator space for fledgling companies, entrepreneurship workshops and business competitions, such as the McGinnis Venture Competition.

New this year is Launch CMU, events that will bring top-tier venture capitalists together with the university’s most promising researchers and entrepreneurs twice a year. Launch CMU events will alternate between the Pittsburgh campus and Silicon Valley, with the first scheduled for May 21 at Intel Corp. headquarters in Santa Clara, Calif.

“We also will be establishing an Alumni Entrepreneurial Network, tapping our many alumni who have started or who are leading successful startups,” Mawhinney said. “Our alumni can provide priceless guidance to the next generation of entrepreneurs and we will be nurturing those connections in every way we can.”

Other new initiatives include undergraduate scholarships and graduate fellowships designed to foster entrepreneurial efforts.

“We want Carnegie Mellon to be the destination of choice for students and faculty who are interested in entrepreneurship,” Blum said. “The knowledge and skills necessary to start a business don’t come naturally, regardless of how gifted a person might be in their chosen discipline. The Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship provides the missing pieces, benefiting not only our faculty and students, but the entire region.”

The CIE is part of Carnegie Mellon’s Greenlighting Startups initiative, which employs the university’s “inside-out” approach to speed advances from the lab to the marketplace. More than 300 businesses have been launched from Carnegie Mellon in the last 15 years, thanks in part to its innovative tech-transfer process that ensures no university interference with startup operations.

The Tepper School of Business, home to the Don Jones Center, was one of the first business schools to offer formal entrepreneurship training. The Don Jones Center has a long history of bringing students, faculty and practitioners together with groundbreaking research from across campus. Since its founding in the School of Computer Science six years ago, Project Olympus has provided help to more than 100 student and faculty teams across campus that sought to turn research and great ideas into commercial services and products. To date, 70 of those efforts — 54 initiated by students and 16 by faculty — have spawned companies.

As with its partner programs, CIE is an engine for accelerating innovation and job creation. The CIE builds upon the university’s impressive record of turning campus innovations into new businesses by supporting award-winning professors and world-class students in transforming their research into thriving commercial enterprises.

Carnegie Mellon Brain Research Shows Visual Perception System Unconsciously Affects Our Preferences

When grabbing a coffee mug out of a cluttered cabinet or choosing a pen to quickly sign a document, what brain processes guide your choices?

New research from Carnegie Mellon University’s Center for the Neural Basis of Cognition (CNBC) shows that the brain’s visual perception system automatically and unconsciously guides decision-making through valence perception. Published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology, the review hypothesizes that valence, which can be defined as the positive or negative information automatically perceived in the majority of visual information, integrates visual features and associations from experience with similar objects or features. In other words, it is the process that allows our brains to rapidly make choices between similar objects.

The findings offer important insights into consumer behavior in ways that traditional consumer marketing focus groups cannot address. For example, asking individuals to react to package designs, ads or logos is simply ineffective. Instead, companies can use this type of brain science to more effectively assess how unconscious visual valence perception contributes to consumer behavior.

To transfer the research’s scientific application to the online video market, the CMU research team is in the process of founding the start-up company neonlabs through the support of the National Science Foundation (NSF) Innovation Corps (I-Corps).

“This basic research into how visual object recognition interacts with and is influenced by affect paints a much richer picture of how we see objects,” said Michael J. Tarr, the George A. and Helen Dunham Cowan Professor of Cognitive Neuroscience and co-director of the CNBC. “What we now know is that common, household objects carry subtle positive or negative valences and that these valences have an impact on our day-to-day behavior.”

Tarr added that the NSF I-Corps program has been instrumental in helping the neonlabs’ team take this basic idea and teaching them how to turn it into a viable company. “The I-Corps program gave us unprecedented access to highly successful, experienced entrepreneurs and venture capitalists who provided incredibly valuable feedback throughout the development process,” he said.

NSF established I-Corps for the sole purpose of assessing new scientific opportunities readiness for transitioning into valuable products through a public-private partnership. The CMU team of Tarr, Sophie Lebrecht, CNBC and Tepper School of Business  postdoctoral fellow, Babs Carryer, embedded entrepreneur at CMU’s Project Olympus and Thomas Kubilius, president of Pittsburgh-based Bright Innovation and adjunct professor of design at CMU, were awarded a $50,000 six-month grant to investigate how understanding valence perception could be used to make better consumer marketing decisions. They are launching neonlabs to apply their model of visual preference to increase click rates on online videos, by identifying the most visually appealing thumbnail from a stream of video. The web –based software product selects a thumbnail based on neuroimaging data on object perception and valence, crowd sourced behavioral data and proprietary computational analyses of large amounts of video streams.

“Everything you see, you automatically dislike or like, prefer or don’t prefer, in part, because of valence perception,” said Lebrecht, lead author of the study and the entrepreneurial lead for the I-Corps grant. “Valence links what we see in the world to how we make decisions.”

Lebrecht continued, “Talking with companies such as YouTube and Hulu, we realized that they are looking for ways to keep users on their sites longer by clicking to watch more videos. Thumbnails are a huge problem for any online video publisher, and our research fits perfectly with this problem. Our approach streamlines the process and chooses the screenshot that is the most visually appealing based on science, which will in the end result in more user clicks.”

On May 23, Lebrecht joined the other 23 I-Corps project teams in Palo Alto, Ca for the final presentation of each team’s I-Corps journey from basic science idea to real-world business application. She presented neonlabs’ solution, outlining the customer landscape, competition and business model.

Carnegie Mellon is well known for its entrepreneurial culture. The university’s Greenlighting Startups initiative, a portfolio of five business incubators, is designed to speed company creation at CMU. In the past 15 years, Carnegie Mellon faculty and students have helped to create more than 300 companies and 9,000 jobs; the university averages 15 to 20 new startups each year.

“CMU has been an amazing place to build neonlabs,” Lebrecht said. “There’s a great intellectual community and facilities here as well as people unbelievably experienced in tech transfer and startups who have been so incredibly generous with their time.”

A Startup is Born! A quick peek at the formation of Treatspace

Rick with some of his crew at Treatspace.

Words and photos Jonathan Kersting

Serial entrepreneur Rick Cancelliere and his crew of advisers and Carnegie Mellon University students were deep in the throes of a pitch meeting when I knocked on the large wooden door at the Project Olympus offices.

I arrived to snap a few pictures of Rick and the Treatspace team — an on-line healthcare startup that just won Pittsburgh’s Startup weekend a few weeks ago. As part of the spoils of winning Startup Weekend, the Pittsburgh Technology Council gave Treatspace a free membership. So I figured a visit to Henry Street was in order to see what all of the hub-bub was about.

The Project Olympus offices are everything you’d imagine in a startup space — rough brick walls butting up against the glass windows; the smell of hours-old coffee wafting from the ad-hoc kitchen space. Punctuate that with humming laptops, power cords snaking between half-empty cans of Red Bull, and you’ve got fertile ground to launch a startup!

It was an almost stereotypical scene unfolding before my eyes. It was exciting to see the team passionately propose ideas, raise functionality issues and debate the legalities surrounding on-line healthcare delivery. So this is how companies get off the ground. Ya know, it’s not every day that you happen upon a startup at its earliest moments.

There was a certain energy in the air — a buzz if you will. A bunch of creative minds were at full tilt, focusing on the creation of Treatspace.

According to Rick:

“Treatspace  is  the beginning of a vision I have had for several years.  I’m fortunate enough now to have a diverse team of dedicated and talented folks who are as passionate about healthcare as I am.  We, at Treatspace, believe in healthcare.  We believe that patients want to get better and that doctors do their best to help us.  And we believe that trust is a critical component to this process.  In the on-line world of healthcare, information is out of control, patients and doctors feel powerless, and trust is non-existent.  Treatspace will bring validated facts about practitioners to patients in need and to the Internet at large.   In doing so, we will lay the first brick in rebuilding an online bridge of trust between all the participants in the healthcare ecosystem.”

Red Bull is the elixir of choice at Treatspace.

Rick continued:

“Through the Project Olympus program at Carnegie Mellon University, Treatspace took its first steps from abstract business strategies towards a value-delivering product.  Our startup team, now 15 people strong, are taking up a slightly larger footprint at Project Olympus, but have significant traction to show for it; being voted top company at the Pittsburgh Startup Weekend, and planning for alpha testing and a private beta launch in 2012.   The local community has been working hard to create an entrepreneurial/commercialization pipeline and we hope to utilize that to its fullest to grow Treatspace and initiate a meaningful shift in the healthcare paradigm that begins right here in Pittsburgh.”

“The Treatspace mission begins by giving doctors control over their on-line information and giving patients a source of information they can trust.  Physicians and their practices will be able to proactively protect their facts for the first time.  The Treatspace portal provides doctors with a single and simple user interface that gives them power to review, authenticate, correct objective information about them in public domains.  Physicians are empowered to proactively protect their professional and personal facts before it adversely affects their work, patients or personal life.”

Time will tell if Treatspace will succeed. With Rick’s experience and support from resources like Project Olympus and Startup Weekend, the odds should be on his side.

Project Olympus is filling an important need in Pittsburgh’s tech startup space by providing startup advice, micro grants, incubator space and connections for Carnegie Mellon faculty and students.

We’ll keep checking in on Treatspace’s progress. This should be exciting!

Learn more at

The Project Olympus offices on Henry Street are buzzing with activity.

Portuguese Tech Companies to Highlight International Company Showcase

On Fri, Feb 10, the Center for Technology Transfer and Enterprise Creation (CTTEC), the Don Jones Center (DJC) for Entrepreneurship and Project Olympus are hosting an International Company Showcase featuring Portuguese companies, FeedZai, Observit and TreatU. Launched and operating in partnership with Vodafone in Portugal, is positioned globally to allow mobile operators to get into the game of geo-location and social networking as a value-added revenue driver.

FeedZai: real time software system for utility companies which face increasing challenges to manage larger amounts of data, to ensure maximum process efficiency, to provide increased capabilities for customers and to increase business sustainability.

Observit:  offers a video management software called Janus that helps shopping centers save costs, increase competitiveness and security, and which integrates with legacy hardware and camera systems.

TreatU: innovative nanotechnology drug delivery system targeting breast cancer tumors so that tumors are both ‘bombed’ by more drug with no side effects and ‘starved’ into tumor reduction or elimination.

The event starts with Networking at 4pm outside of Rashid Auditorium in Gates Hillman at CMU. Then the Showcase itself will be at 5pm. A flyer for this event can be downloaded from:  Please RSVP to:

Stop by and learn more about these exciting companies!

Project Olympus Show and Tell Set for Nov. 14

Project Olympus celebrates Global Entrepreneurship Week with a special Show & Tell, co-hosted by TiE Pittsburgh. Stop by for another fun and stimulating program, chock full of exciting talent and ideas, showcasing university research and student and community initiatives.

  • Olympus Show & Tell 14
  • Mon, Nov 14, 2011, 5:00-6:30 pm
  • Rashid Auditorium
  • Hillman Center for Next Generation Technologies Carnegie Mellon University

A networking reception will follow @7th floor Atrium, Gates Center

The Show&Tell poster can be downloaded from:

The event is FREE but REGISTRATION is advised and requested:

Directions can be downloaded from the Events page: