I just returned from the Fall ESPRIT Innovation Alliance Breakfast, hosted by the non-profit Boulder Innovation Center and it was, as usual, a fascinating morning.
In cooperation with the University of Colorado Technology Transfer Office, the Boulder Innovation Center helps take great ideas and inventions out of the university and into the business world. They wrestle with a fundamental challenge for any university that has a strong research base: how do you spin out companies while still retaining at least some of the IP for the benefit of the University and its students, faculty and staff?
This isn’t much different from the tensions, challenges, and harsh reality I encountered at HP Labs when I worked there. Like many other corporate R&D facilities (Xerox PARC, DEC’s Western Research Labs, Interval Research), it’s hard to take blue sky and turn it into pragmatic for-profit businesses for both the benefit of the inventors and institution.
In a format similar to DEMO and other startup events, the BIC breakfast format gave each company approximately 8 minutes to present and 2-3 minutes for questions. Fast and furious.
Here are my notes, with my commentary and thoughts in [italics]…
Intro: The CU Innovation Alliance
David Allen: You’re going to see some wicked cool technology. This is the stuff that’s right on the edge. We get about 100 invention disclosures from the Boulder campus each year, so we have 100 opportunities to figure out what it’s all about. Our faculty are some of the very best people in the world in what they do, and here we are trying to figure out what they’re doing.
We (The CU Tech Transfer Office) pay $50k year for the Boulder Innovation Center, which lets our investigators — the inventors of these technologies — have access to the BIC and its expert management and professional services teams.
Our first goal is to get a grip on the technology so we can protect it (patents), then we have a definable asset and then look to the tech platform to find business drivers.
[ I read this somewhat as "we get solutions, then have to identify a problem" which is accurate, and classic research. "Here's something cool. Now what?" ]
[The CU Tech Transfer Office also offers these Proof Of Concept Grants (they refer to these as "POCg" internally), so inventors have two shots at proving their ideas to the marketplace before seeking funding]
Allen posited that CU is the most active university in the US with its self-funded Tech Transfer Office, a university that’s putting 3.5 million into proof of concept programs. [it's very interesting, this concept of University as angel capital investor and incubator!]
Tim Bour: Often the advisors that we (BIC) find become the principles of the newly formed company. We wrap a community around this young company with the goal of making it successful.
[In that sense, then, it's not like a traditional incubator, but it's one heck of a way for smart execs to get plugged in to hot new companies just coming out of a strong research institution]
[Presented by Tin Tin Su, Association Prof Molecular, Cellular, and developmental biology, Suvica uses drosophila to create a tissue micro-environment that significantly improves the discovery of new anti-cancer compounds]
We’re working on discovering novel combination therapeutics against cancer [Amusing to see that the title slide had "confidential" written on it] We’re trying to find combination therapies, because combining radiation with chemo works better than either does individually. Their success is based on synergy between agents: result exceeds sum of individual therapies, but the challenge is: how do you find combinations that work?
They’re trying to avoid clinical trials because they’re costly and time-consuming. Suvica offers screening technologies for drugs that work well with radiation.
We’re accomplishing this by radiating common fruit fly (drosophila) larvae to see what happens: the fruit fly is similar to cancer tumors. Through extensive research, we’ve identified that you can use drosophila to find agents that are effective against human cancer. Dros is 100x better predictive model than any screening system in existence, and there’s potential to find drugs that act on mutants but not normal tissue
The presentation addressed scalability, competition and barriers to entry. They’ve filed patents, done a pilot screen, secured $381K grant to test on mouse model, screening commercial library (20k compounds), seek: equity finance, management, commence screening service, partner with biotech/pharma to screen their libraries.
[I found this exciting research, the idea that specifically trying to screen combination therapies for efficacy can produce better cancer treatments that have less side effects and work faster and more effectively. It also seems like a solid business idea, mostly likely a small biz that'll find revenue through licensing and testing with big pharma]
Ion Engineering: Colorado Carbon Capture
[Presented by Jason Bara, Colorado Carbon Capture develops technology that improves the efficiency of carbon capture from power plants and natural gas wells through the use of "green" solvents. CCC promises to bring dramatic improvements to the energy efficiency of current processes, as well as provide innovative, new and cost-efficient approaches to carbon capture.]
The market for CO2 capture already exists:
– natural gas “sweetening” (removal of H2S and CO2). billion dollar market in US alone
– carbon capture from point sources: billions of tons of CO2 emitted from burning coal, potential multi-billion market
We replace the water in the process with an ionic solvent
– improves energy requirements – reduces energy to process CO2 1/3 to 1/2
– faster reaction rates
– cleaner process (less corrosive, reduced loss and waste
– can open previously unviable gas fields
initial focus on natural gas application: $5 *billion* spent on new natgas equip each year, with an immediate market in Colo and Wyoming
24 month scale up: lab -> pilot -> wellhead
income sources: royalties on gas volumes, direct solvent sales, equip design
Have management and engineering team in place: CEO, scientific staff [Tip: a CEO is not a management team]
Q: What is your ionic solvent and what does it cost? It costs anywhere from $100-$500 gallon to create ionic liquids. room temperature ionic liquid – a family of organic solvents
Q: Is the solvent consumed or recycled? It is not consumed. The chemical process occurs to consume the co2, and since its not volatile, it doesn’t evaporate.
Q: How is the carbon captured? When it”s captured from nat gas you vent it back out into the atmosphere. The h2s you have to turn it back into sulfur or some other product because it’s toxic.
[I admit that I didn't fully understand this solution, but it's clearly a very big market and though we like to sweep industrial waste and pollution under the proverbial rug, it's a growing problem and there's a lot of money therein]
[Presented by Michael Larson, Tissue Fusion develops laser devices to "weld" biological tissues together for wound closures. This device is an improvement on existing technologies using sutures in an array of standard surgical procedures]
Laser tissue fusion is an alternative to sutures — it’s a medical device that’s based on using laser energies to fuse tissues together and close wounds. Their product is called LaSept, and it’s a device for helping with septoplasty and rhinoplasty surgeries: over 500,000 of these procedures are done annually in US. $100mil worldwide market
They also have a vision about follow on products: minimally invasive surgeries (laparoscopic procedures), their product will also prove a boon for procedures needing immediate, water-tight closure.
“The first FDA approved laser device for wound closure will create excitement and will transform the market”
[This company is definitely savvy: they picked septoplasty & rhinoplasty surgery because it's a fast FDA approval since the inside of the nose is considered the outside of the body. Yeah, that's a weird idea, but that's the FDA for you]
They have successfully fused horse mucosal tissue in a manner similar to the human nose. Have completed pre-clinical phases. As he explained, the science is proven, engineering is done, FDA approval process is straightforward.
Company has Larson as founder, two product designers, two academic otolaryngologists, but no management, no marketing, etc, The identified need for growing to the next step: a CEO to do fund raising.
[Again, my expertise is not in medical products, but this seemed like a neat, handheld product with a specific use and defined market. Not exciting, but a solid business opportunity.]
[This was the token geeky software presentation, made by John Giacomoni. LineRate Systems has a software network appliance platform that delivers 10 gb/s application layer processing capabilities on commodity servers and blades]
“Rethinking Network Appliances” – the plumbing that connects your machine to the Internet. When the equipment that they have to put in front of the machine costs more than the machine itself, that’s a serious problem. Our focus is on low-cost no hassle sales model.
In 2009 we are going to bring our products to market. The idea came up in 2003, 2006 initial proof of concept, 2006-2008 they filed patents, 2007 got first gigabit appliance functioning, 2008 got 4gb/s.
These speeds mean each frame has to be processed in a few hundred nanoseconds max. In 2009 we’ve been talking with Intel and we should be able to hit 10gb/s system and enter the market
process: built upon open source building blocks: xorp, nginx, snort, RIsense (?), leveraging hw Intel, amd, dell, sun, hp. Missing piece: the glue: Line Rate acceleration software
There are 40 appliance manufacturers in the marketplace already. Total market $30 bil by 2013, $16bil today.
[This is where it got a bit confusing because John's answer to how they compete is "there's a great apathy in the market for new competitor entries because of the high cost of goods", yet his slide showed that the cost of goods was about 23% of total sales, nothing out of line for a hardware-based product line.]
They believe they can deliver the end product for the basic cost of goods of competitors, forcing the competitors to license their system.
Need: rest of business team and funds.
[I was intrigued by LineRate Systems and its idea of rethinking network backend appliances but I get a sense that the company needs to rethink its business vision. The cliché error of "we have no competition" wasn't quite visible, but having identified 40 big competitors (including Cisco and Juniper Systems) then claiming none of them can innovate at the software level, well, that's hubris at best and naive at worst.]
[Presented by Johan Baeck, 3QMatrix focuses on the development and commercialization of novel wound healing and drug delivery products using a proprietary product platform. This was the most interesting company I saw this morning and I believe there's a tremendous opportunity here]
“A novel wound healing company: advanced biomaterials for enhanced quality of life”
Their market: 5-7 million US patients with chronic wounds — wound care is $1 billion market.
Today’s solutions don’t meet clinical need, which is for a solution that:
– provides high performance at a lower cost
– minimizes the pain
– reduces hospital stay
Traditional solutions are low cost, but low performance (think special ointments or salves applied to wounds). Interactive solutions are high performance but have a high cost ($2000-4000 per application). 3QMatrix offers a low cost, high performance solution.
Their solution is an advanced synthetic biomaterial which creates a 3-dimensional mesh that lets the neighboring cells begin to rebuild the skin and tissue. It biodegrades and is bio-absorbable. They can also “functionalize” it by adding antibacterial, growth hormones and other medications to the material itself.
3QMatrix has a management team, scientific advisory board, and has received proof of concept grant from the CU Boulder Tech Transfer Office to solidify patents. Submitted two grants to NIH and one to DoD.
Seeking $2mil in seed money to further product development and clinical studies.
[To me, 3QMatrix is a perfect example of how ingenious technologies can be invented in a university research setting with high applicability to the real world and then can evolve into a commercial business. I have high expectations for this company]
[Presented by Mark Hernandez, XenoPur Systems provides metals decontamination in water treatment processes. The combination of low-cost ingredients, low energy requirements and lower waste disposal costs will allow XenoPur to lower total process costs to industry]
Radionuclide and metal removal technologies – removal of heavy, precious and radioactive metals. Water and nuclear pollution is increasing worldwide. Over $1bil spent on treating industrial wastewater in US alone.
Their product is called the XenoPur “Liquid Magnet” and it’s essentially impregnating carbon with corrosion inhibitors. Mark liken its primary industrial use to an “industrial wastewater Britta filter”, and noted that the other primary configuration is as a “tea bag”, cleaning passive water (from, for example, the contamination of acid rain).
It’s a cost effective way to purify acidic metal-laden waters, including high efficiency removal of all EPA priority pollutants: copper, lead, silver, uranium and other semi-precious (silver) and toxics.
Displaces conventional sludge generating technology through solidification of dissolved metals [In other words, the end product pollutants are far easier to deal with and process]
The solution has to be cheap: water purification applications must deal with billions of gallons of water effectively. One patent has been issued, one tech continuation patent submitted.
Tested / field optimization in SAE Circuits, Boulder (industrial wastewater), Rockford Mine, Idaho Springs (mining reclamation) Los Alamos National Lab (radionuclide sequestration)
Incorporated in 2006 has received the following funding: $400k from NSF and US Air Force, $100k from State of Colorado
[The technology here is very cool. Imagine a device that could be lowered into a polluted mountain lake and actually filter out all the contaminants. Then it's pulled out and those contaminants can be easily processed and broken down into non-toxic elements. A solid business, I'm thankful smart people are working on cleaning up our environment after 100+ years of the waste from the industrial revolution]
Kapteyn-Murnane Labs (aka KMLabs)
[Presented by Dirk Muller, KMLabs was founded by Margaret Murnane and Henry Kapteyn. This presentation was more of a TTO success story as KMLabs has been around since 1994]
KMLabs is a manufacturer of femtosecond lasers. They’ve built a very successful business, founded in 1994 and profitable every year since. Now has 20 people and a 21,000sf research and manufacturing facility in Boulder, Colorado.
[Tip: a femtosecond is one millionth of a nanosecond. As Dirk said, a femtosecond is to a second as a minute is to the age of the universe. Amazing, really]
The great advantage of femtosecond lasers is that they generate zero heat which gives them many interesting capabilities.
The company vision: bringing highest performance ultrafast laser systems to the research community. KMLabs was the first company to develop a reliable 10 femtosecond laser, and are a cornerstone in the NSF Engineering Research Center for Extreme Ultraviolet Science and Technology.
Global customer base, applications: ultrafast spectroscopy, nonlinear coherent light sources, coherent x-ray generation, attosecond pulse generation, optical coherence tomography. future apps: micromachining, sensors, lithographic mask inspection, biomedical, soft x-ray microscopy and metrology
[Femtoseconds weren't fast enough for you? An attosecond is 1/1000th of a femtosecond]
KMLabs are global leaders in high average power ultrafast lasers, cryogenic cooling for 10-100W (military applications), carrier envelope offset phase stabilization of high average power ultrafast lasers and coherent short wavelength light.
[I don't much know about femtosecond laser system and what they're used for in the research setting (my own research has been with people and computers, not cool laser gizmos) but, damn, pretty cool stuff, and KMlabs is a splendid example of tech transfer done right]
Those were the companies that presented. Fascinating stuff and it makes me glad to live in a college town with a thriving research community and the desire and passion for those research findings to make it out into the world and help make everything faster, safer, cleaner and healthier.
If you have questions about these companies or want to get in touch with either the Boulder Innovation Center or CU Technology Transfer Office, please visit their Web sites: BoulderInnovationCenter.com and CU.edu/techtransfer.