Qing “Ken” Yang is a serial entrepreneur, having started four companies in the last 15 years. The University of Rhode Island computer engineering professor has a winning formula: secure grants, conduct research at the school, start company, hire employees, repeat.
“It’s a positive loop,” Yang says.
His latest startup, VeloBit, Inc., has attracted more than $5 million in venture capital, employs 15 and counts more than 500 customers around the globe. In July 2013, it was acquired by computer hardware giant Western Digital.
The firm sells patented software based on a new algorithm developed by Yang to speed up servers that process data such as customer information, financial records, inventory and other data that keeps Corporate America humming.
VeloBit’s software squeezes more speed from solid-state “flash” disk drives that are becoming standard in servers. The software – installed in under a minute – identifies frequently accessed files and places them in cache closer to the central processor. The software saves companies money by minimizing the need to buy pricey new hardware.
The roots of VeloBit – a play on “velocity” and “bit” or “fast information” – reach to 2010 when Yang met former venture capitalist Duncan McCallum, who would become the startup’s co-founder and CEO.
McCallum, an even-keeled executive with a Harvard MBA, says Yang demonstrated the essential ability to articulate his research, prove its mettle and sell it.
“I took the red pill and committed to VeloBit when Qing in his lab proved he could build his solution in an all-software package,” McCallum says. “There would not be a company without Qing Yang.”
Yang spent nearly three years developing algorithms to speed up solid-state hard drives. To refine the work, Yang relied on computer facilities at the University of Rhode Island, a grant from the National Science Foundation and a team of graduate students poring over lines of computer code. (One graduate student, Jin Ren (‘11), would later become VeloBit’s first employee.)
In 2007, University officials helped him file a patent application and in 2012 the U.S. government issued patent 8,140,772. It became Yang’s tenth patent, and since then Yang has secured two more and has additional applications pending.
In return for providing resources and support, the University’s Research Foundation holds part-ownership in VeloBit, whose headquarters lie just north of Boston. Proceeds from the arrangement support University research.
Other University professors have taken similar paths. Biomedical engineering Associate Professor Walter Besio worked with the Research Foundation to start CREmedical Corp. The company develops an electrode system that monitors brainwave activity and can detect life-threatening events and potentially stop acute seizures.
Separately, nursing Professor Patricia Burbank partnered with biomedical engineering Professor Ying Sun to start Burbank Industries LLC. The company is commercializing a waist-worn device that encourages older people to exercise.
“There’s a lot of opportunity here,” University President David M. Dooley says. “We have a chance to stake out a position of national leadership.”