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Revving up Howard’s Entrepreneurial R&D

Alumnus Terry Adams helps bring business ideas to fruition.

by Sholnn Freeman (MA '12, PHD '21)
illustration of woman in elevator with lightbulb in hand and word "startup" above elevator

After years of incubating businesses in the Office of Research, one unyielding theme has emerged – service, community, and social consciousness.

“A lot of the businesses proposals have the social consciousness element,” says Terry Adams (BS ’85, MS ’88), the head of technology transfer at Howard University. “There is always an origin story behind what they want to do. There is always a deeper connection than making money.”

Proposals have focused on beauty and skin products sensitive to Black skin or business ideas that bring social consciousness into classrooms. One of the newest ideas is a patented swim cap for ethnic hair and people of color, Adams says.

These ideas won funding from Howard University’s three-year-old PitchHU program which has successfully awarded start-up funds to more than a dozen early-stage businesses. Business founders included married couples, a Howard medical student, and brother and sister combo. Adams followed up with GrowHU, a business accelerator program targeting more mature small businesses that launched this year.

Terry Adams
Terry Adams

Adams and the Office of Research is following up with a slew of new Howard-centric business development programs – GrowHU, VentureHU, and TechHU. The programs will not only launch all-new business, but provide critical startup money for building prototypes, targeting new markets, and hiring employees.

After his Howard graduate school years, Adams landed at Procter and Gamble. He also worked in the research and development arm of the consumer products company Kimberly-Clark, best known as the maker of Huggies and Scott Paper Towels. Later, he led the intellectual property division of Nestle, managing the company’s worldwide portfolio from Vevey, Switzerland.

His experience has proved to be a rich resource for Howard University. Bruce Jones, senior vice president for research, hired Adams in 2020 to jumpstart Howard’s efforts at commercialization, which mainly involves transforming patents into marketable products and services.

The follow-up to PitchHU, GrowHU has already taken off. GrowHU is a business accelerator program targeting more mature small businesses that launched in 2022. Like the PitchHU, the program is open to Howard University and other HBCU-affiliated entrepreneurs and is designed to help companies advance to the next level of growth by providing sales and marketing support.

In some ways, the newest additions, TechHU and VentureHU, return to the original focus of commercializing ideas that have resulted from Howard’s research activities. But even these will be approached with an entrepreneurial and community mindset. TechHU is a structured approach to innovation that aims to maximize the positioning of Howard’s IP-portfolio in order to accelerate potential investment, distribution and commercialization opportunities for Howard-led IP and related technologies. VentureHU will provide a pathway to spin-out Howard technologies for advancement beyond the discovery phase to ultimately make those technologies more attractive to external investment.

“It’s more than just interesting discoveries,” Adams says. “We needed to be a location for transforming those into products and services that can be looked at as viable commercial opportunities. That means creating more opportunity to encourage an entrepreneurial mindset and culture within the Howard academic community.”





This story appears in the Winter 2024 issue.
Article ID: 1896

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