Alumni group may hold venture capital secret for startups, next big idea from Purdue faculty, researchers

April 25, 2013  

Jessica Huber SV BIG

Purdue professor Jessica Huber makes a business plan presentation to SV BIG members Wednesday (April 24) that highlights her SpeechVive device, which addresses a need for those battling Parkinson's disease. Several businesses led by Purdue faculty and staff made presentations to the alumni group during the event in Discovery Park. (Purdue University photo/Mark Simons)
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WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. - A new all-volunteer, nonprofit group composed of Silicon Valley-based Purdue University alumni could provide Purdue innovators and entrepreneurs with another avenue of support to commercialize the university's innovations.

The Silicon Valley Boiler Innovation Group, or SV BIG, links established California venture capitalists, angel investors, entrepreneurs and industry officials who graduated from Purdue with Purdue entrepreneurs who are attempting to launch their own startups.

Alumni Tom Schroeder and Bruce Schechter, two Silicon Valley-based businessmen, have had successful careers in entrepreneurship, business development and venture/angel investing and have been instrumental in getting SV BIG off the ground.

"SV BIG was created through the initiative of several Purdue alumni who have been successful in the startup world. It is an independent, alumni-driven group," Schroeder said. "This grassroots organization can bring critical market advice, fundraising insight, a Silicon Valley cultural perspective and technical know-how to potential entrepreneurs at the university.

"The objective of SV BIG is to help stimulate a startup culture and community at Purdue and support the creation of successful ventures based on Purdue technology. We want to help Purdue entrepreneurs to really think 'big,' " Schroeder said.

Schroeder and Schechter assembled several Purdue alumni with experience in the venture industry. Today, SV BIG is comprises 24 members and is growing steadily. Schechter and core organizers Glenn Johnson and Rich Redelfs now are seeking more members to provide networking support and mentorship in Silicon Valley and beyond.

SV BIG founders are recruiting Silicon Valley alumni who have served as company founders, executives, venture capitalists and angel investors. Schroeder, Schechter, Johnson and Redelfs continue to selectively add more members to expand the scale and scope of networking support and mentorship for the Purdue entrepreneurial community.

"Purdue has a strong, proud alumni base, and many of them are successful entrepreneurs who have expressed an interest in engaging in the entrepreneurial activities happening through Purdue University and the Purdue Research Foundation," said Dan Hasler, president and chief entrepreneurial officer for Purdue Research Foundation.

"Engaging some of our 400,000 alumni using a combination of technology and old-fashioned networking creates new opportunities for Purdue to enhance its technological and economic impact and move some of the 450-plus Purdue innovations to the public where they can help people. That is a top goal of our collective efforts."

This week, the Silicon Valley group met with several entrepreneurially minded faculty members, researchers and students from across campus. The group offered feedback and coaching to the eight ventures during the event in the Hall for Discovery and Learning Research in Discovery Park and will put together a full mentoring team for several of the ventures with the highest potential for success.

Jessica Huber, a Purdue speech, language and hearing sciences professor, presented her business plan to the SV BIG group about SpeechVive, a company she has launched to assist patients with Parkinson's disease to speak louder and more clearly.

The SpeechVive device, which rests in a patient's ear, provides a stream of noise similar to the background chatter at a party, cueing the user to naturally talk louder. This response is known as the Lombard effect. Huber hopes to bring the device to market.

"For me, the biggest benefit of presenting before the SV BIG group was the chance to have SpeechVive's business plan vetted by people in business. That's difficult to do on a university campus. And these Purdue alums are real VCs and established business leaders who are devoting their time and expertise," Huber said. "You can't put a value on that kind of mentoring. This could be huge for SpeechVive."

SV BIG is an independent group, but also works closely with the university's Entrepreneurial Task Force, an entity created by Purdue chemical engineering professor Joe Pekny, who has started high-tech businesses from his research and commercialization efforts since joining the university in 1990. Working with John Boyle, director of the Purdue West Coast Partnership Center in California, initial Entrepreneurial Task Force membership was drawn from industrial engineering alumni involved in entrepreneurship.

"SV BIG is exactly the type of program we had hoped would evolve to support the task force," Pekny said. "But the credit for the early success of the Silicon Valley group lies with the independent efforts of successful Purdue alumni who are willing and able to give back with their time as advisers, experts and mentors."

To contact SV BIG or for more information about the initiative, visit 

Writers: Phillip Fiorini, 765-496-3133,

Cynthia Sequin, 765-588-3340, 

Sources: Tom Schroeder, 650-888-8328,

Joe Pekny, 765-494-7901,

Jessica Huber, 765-494-3796,

Alan Rebar, executive director, Discovery Park, 765-496-6625,

Related websites:

Birck Nanotechnology Center

Purdue Research Park 

Purdue Office of Technology and Commercialization

Purdue University, 610 Purdue Mall, West Lafayette, IN 47907, (765) 494-4600

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