The University of Chicago’s Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation and Data Science Institute today announced the launch of Transform, a new accelerator for startup companies focused on the breakthrough technologies of data science and artificial intelligence.
Housed within the new Deep Tech Ventures initiative at the Polsky Center, Transform will provide full-spectrum support, including access to business and technical training, industry mentorship, venture capital connections, and funding opportunities, to early-stage companies utilizing advances in data science and AI.
In its first year, Transform is targeting two cohorts of up to 10 companies each. Startups accepted into the accelerator will receive approximately $250,000 in total investment, including $25,000 in funding, usage of UChicago computing resources, credits for Amazon Web Services and Google for Startups, workspace in the Polsky Exchange on Chicago’s South Side, and access to industry mentors, technical advisors and student talent from the University of Chicago Department of Computer Science, Data Science Institute (DSI), and the Chicago Booth School of Business.
Applications for the inaugural Transform cohort are due January 25, 2023, an extension from the original January 20th deadline. Candidates should be focused on data-driven technologies, including AI and machine learning, data engineering, data analytics, applications in healthcare and biotech, cybersecurity, IoT, climate tech and environment, blockchain, social impact, transportation, fintech, transportation, agriculture, and others.
“The Polsky Center continues to provide unparalleled support to early-stage startup ventures and the Transform accelerator is no different,” said Dan Sachs, executive director of Polsky Deep Tech Ventures. “We are confident that data science and AI startups can accelerate their ability to bring innovations to market with venture capital connections and funding opportunities from the Polsky Center. And our partners at the Data Science Institute at the university can provide the deep, focused, technical guidance and access to industry-specific mentors that we know are invaluable resources to today’s entrepreneurs.”
Data science and AI are two of the most transformative technologies this century, with the potential to revolutionize virtually every industry and field of study. The University of Chicago is at the heart of these scientific innovations. In the last five years, the Departments of Computer Science and Statistics have added more than 40 new faculty, most of which specialize in AI, machine learning, data science and data engineering. The Data Science Institute, launched in 2021, executes the University’s bold, innovative vision of data science as a new discipline, seeding interdisciplinary research, forming partnerships with industry, government, and social impact organizations, and supporting holistic data science education.
“At the University of Chicago, we are privileged to push forward the research frontiers of computer and data science in a community with world-leading experts in economics, biological and physical sciences, law and public policy, and other fields,” said Michael J. Franklin, faculty co-director of the Data Science Institute, Liew Family Chair of Computer Science, and Senior Advisor to the Provost for Computation and Data Science. “This fertile intellectual landscape is the ideal environment for founding new businesses that apply the latest breakthroughs in data science and AI for vital opportunities across sectors.”
The City of Chicago also boasts a growing reputation for tech entrepreneurship. In 2021, Chicago-based venture capital firms raised more than $5.7 billion, while nine Chicago-based companies crossed the $1 billion-plus “unicorn” valuation level – the third-highest total in the country. The Chicago tech ecosystem also leads the nation in diversity, with 34 percent of Chicago’s startups run by women and 26 percent of the tech workforce identifying as Black or Latinx — more than three times the national average.
Transform will use a proven formula developed by Duality, the nation’s first quantum science and technology accelerator, run by the Polsky Center and the Chicago Quantum Exchange. Since its launch in April 2021, Duality has supported 11 quantum-focused startups across two cohorts, with member companies successfully achieving government funding and industry acquisition. In May 2022, Duality member Super.tech – founded by UChicago Computer Science Professor Fred Chong and PhD graduate Pranav Gokhale – was acquired by global quantum leader ColdQuanta.
Startups under the Deep Tech Ventures program will have access to various funding mechanisms. Deep Tech Ventures expects to raise an external $25 million venture fund in 2023 to support deep tech startups looking for seed-stage and Series A funding. As part of Deep Tech Ventures, Transform will help up to 20 startups per year grow their businesses in the Chicago area. The program is open to all members of the Chicago tech community, and not limited to UChicago-based startups.
“Transform offers a robust combination of resources, training, and funding that will provide invaluable support to the tech startup community,” said Shyama Majumdar, director of Transform. “I am most excited about the mentorship program and the top-notch student talent we are able to offer from the Chicago Booth School of Business and the Data Science Institute. We have a pool of fantastic mentors ready to roll up their sleeves and work with the teams.”
“We’re looking for early-stage startups that combine technological innovation and a creative product idea with both market potential and societal benefits,” said Dan Nicolae, faculty co-director of the Data Science Institute and Professor of Statistics, Human Genetics, Medicine, Section of Genetic Medicine and the College. “The mission of the Data Science Institute is to develop data science as an emerging new discipline, from education and basic research through interdisciplinary application and entrepreneurship. Transform bolsters this vision, creating the unique opportunity to translate foundational discoveries in data science and AI into technologies that address the most important real-world challenges.”
—A version of this story was published on the Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship Innovation.