“I couldn’t think of a better place to invest in a cutting-edge model—bringing science and business together—that can bring solutions to more people, faster,” says University of Massachusetts Amherst alumnus Paul Manning ‘77. Manning and his wife, Diane, have committed $1 million through their family foundation to establish the Manning Innovation Program, which provides three years of resources to research projects, as faculty in the College of Natural Sciences develop real-world applications for their discoveries.
The initiative supports researchers and business students across campus through the early stages of translating new discoveries into marketable form—stages such as ideation, proof-of-concept, and business development. The faculty members receive seed funding, and engage in business training and mentorship from such campus units as the Berthiaume Center for Entrepreneurship.
“By cultivating and mentoring high-achieving scientists and pairing them with business-minded collaborators, this program has the potential to change industries—and lives,” says Dean of the College of Natural Sciences Tricia Serio.
The first grant awarded by the program supports a project that hits close to home for the Mannings. Their sons, Bradford and Bryan, have Stargardt disease, which causes loss of the central field of vision. Together, they run a clothing line called Two Blind Brothers, the proceeds of which are all donated to blindness research. Currently, Stargardt disease has no remedy or intervention course.
The first recipient of funds from the Manning Innovation Program, Associate Professor of Biology Abigail Jensen, is seeking to identify how the disease causes photoreceptor degeneration at a molecular level. Her work could create a foundation for translation into therapeutic applications.
As an entrepreneur, Paul Manning has 30 years of experience in the healthcare industry. In 2010, he founded PBM Capital Group, a healthcare-focused private investment group that looks for opportunities to make investments in pharmaceuticals, molecular diagnostics, gene therapy, life sciences, and health and wellness interests. He was the anchor investor in Maroon Venture Partners, the first venture-capital fund at UMass Amherst, which was created in 2017 as a $6 million for-profit investment vehicle to support alumni, faculty, and student businesses in their early stages. This latest gift ties together both his expertise in healthcare investment, and his long relationship to entrepreneurism at UMass.