University of Akron Research Foundation’s I-Corps Program Recognized with National Award for Exemplary Practice in Technology Commercialization
Akron, OH – June 11, 2021 – The University of Akron Research Foundation’s (UARF) I-Corps program received the Exemplary Practice in Technology Commercialization Award at the Deshpande Symposium on June 11. The Deshpande Symposium is an annual gathering of like-minded practitioners focused on accelerating innovation and entrepreneurship across the college and university environment in the United States and Canada. Each year, the Symposium offers three awards to university-affiliated entrepreneurship programs that reflect national best practices.
I-Corps was recognized for its strong commitment to building programs that accelerate innovations from laboratory research to commercialization for both university and community inventors. In a letter notifying UARF of the award, Raj Melville, executive director of the Deshpande Foundation, noted that UARF’s I-Corps site “best exemplified a strong commitment to building programs that accelerate innovations from the laboratory and research into commercialization across institutions.”
“I-Corps has helped tremendously to change the culture at our university to become much more innovative and entrepreneurial for our faculty and students,” said University of Akron President Gary L. Miller. “This entrepreneurial spirit not only impacts our campus, but the communities we serve.”
The goal of I-Corps is to help faculty, students and the community answer important questions about their business, product or technology idea through coaching and direct customer interactions. UA’s I Corps Site, which serves Northeast Ohio, has provided intensive experiential education in what it takes to launch a business for more than 400 Northeast Ohio students, 200 university faculty members, 300 business mentors and 100 community entrepreneurs. I-Corps Site participants have launched successful businesses in a wide range of industries, including software for water treatment facilities, next generation adhesives, and hair and beauty products.
“It’s a great honor to receive this Deshpande Symposium Technology Commercialization Award,” said Elyse Ball, UARF executive director and I-Corps instructor. “It’s a testament to the quality of Northeast Ohio’s innovators and entrepreneurs who have enabled the I-Corps program to thrive.”
I-Corps has also had a major impact beyond university campuses. “The University of Akron I-Corps Site program has catalyzed a major acceleration in innovation to drive research and new ideas into commercialization realities, not only at the University, but also for the greater Akron community and all universities in Northeast Ohio,” said Heather Roszczyk, who serves as innovation and entrepreneurship advocate in the Mayor’s Office of Integrated Development at the city of Akron.
The next I-Corps Program is scheduled in the fall. The application deadline is Sunday, Sept. 19, 2021.
Visit UARF’s I-Corps website for more information.
By Dan Shingler
Akron's got another software startup that appears to be gaining traction, although treading water — in a good way — might be a better way to put it. Fontus Blue, which moved into the downtown Bounce Innovation Hub in June, doesn't make the sort of app most people will ever use, though millions may taste its results.
The company's offering, Decision Blue, is a subscription-based software as-a-service product that helps water-treatment plants address issues and produce water that consistently exceeds testing requirements by providing treatment formulas and regimens based on real-time modeling. "For a little while, Fontus was a hobby. It's no longer a hobby, with employees and payroll and all that," said Chris Miller, a University of Akron associate professor who started the company in 2011. A civil engineer by background and with a family history of small business ownership in his native Iowa, Miller has five employees helping him. He also contracts outside help with some of his software's interface coding. He and his staff do all of the coding for the parts of the system that handle water and chemistry technology. Miller's customer count is rising fairly fast and broadly. Fontus Blue counts 25 cities or their water suppliers among its clients, including Akron and St. Louis.
"We're actually in nine states and Canada, and soon to be also officially in Brazil," Miller said. Revenue is on the rise, too. Revenue was $300,000 in 2018, but already has topped $400,000 this year, Miller said. He's projecting more growth through 2019 and beyond. "Our goal this year is a million dollars … and I'm fairly confident we'll get there," he said. The growth so far has come without focused marketing efforts, he noted. Contracts with big water companies that work for cities have helped spread his software across the U.S., while treatment equipment makers and academics familiar with Fontus Blue have introduced the company to customers in Nova Scotia, Canada and Sao Paolo, Brazil. There are also some big trends that Miller thinks will increase demand for the system. Recent water issues such as the lead poisoning in Flint, Mich., and the shutdown of Toledo's entire system due to algae-related toxins have made people hyperaware of water-quality issues, he said.
Faculty researchers in The University of Akron’s (UA) College of Engineering – now in its 106th year – earned $10.9 million in research grant funding in the 2018 calendar year. The grants were awarded by diverse government entities, industry partners and foundations for projects ranging from improving cancer treatment to making it safer to drive America’s roadways.
“UA’s College of Engineering is home to world-class faculty conducting cutting-edge and transformative research that cuts across all sectors: manufacturing, automotive, environmental, transportation, biomedical, structural, chemical and more,” said Craig Menzemer, Ph. D., interim dean of the College. “I’m proud of the pioneering research my colleagues have devoted themselves to, which is a testament to the College of Engineering’s strong reputation as the premier engineering school in Northeast Ohio. Our faculty’s research will have an enormous impact on the way we live and work. All of this is happening right here, at The University of Akron.”
In total, the college secured $10,936,826 in grant funding last year for projects and centers within the college. The grants stretched across the college’s five departments (civil, $4,566,511; chemical and bimolecular, $2,533,596; mechanical, $1,856,386; biomedical, $1,411,669; and electrical and computer, $568,664). Among the grants awarded, most dollars ($4,426,572) came from the Ohio Department of Transportation for various projects that focus on such things as asphalt mix overlay alternatives and effective bridge deck repair maintenance methods. Industry grants accounted for $2,075,243, while National Science Foundation (NSF) grants totaled $1,697,514.
By: Lisa Craig, University of Akron Media Relations
The University of Akron is listed in a new report, Top 100 Worldwide Universities Granted U.S. Utility Patents in 2017. UA is ranked 60th with 43 patents, and is the top ranking public university in Ohio. The rankings, compiled by the National Academy of Inventors (NAI) and Intellectual Property Owners Association (IPO), were based on data obtained from the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO).
“Our faculty are innovative and produce quality intellectual property — we are pleased to receive this recognition,” said Dr. George Chase, president of The University of Akron Research Foundation (UARF) and our director of STEM research. “Past and current administrations should be credited with fostering an environment that supports and encourages creative research.” Patents take on average five to six years to issue from the date of filing.
Faculty innovation recognized
“We are ecstatic that UA, which is renowned for its global leadership in technological sciences and innovation, has been recognized by the NAI and IPO,” said Kelly Bialek, our IP manager. “The flow of invention disclosures from our distinguished faculty enrich our innovation ecosystem at UA and throughout the region.”
Dr. George Chase was named president of the University of Akron Research Foundation at its Oct. 26 board meeting. Founded in 2001, the foundation promotes and supports the development and commercialization of UA discoveries and inventions. Chase, who joined the College of Engineering in 1985, is a professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering. In August, he was named director of STEM research. Chase earned both a bachelor’s degree and Ph.D. in chemical engineering here.
“George Chase is a natural fit to become the UARF president,” notes Nathan Mortimer, vice president for finance and administration/CFO. “He has a comprehensive understanding of the research ecosystem; is well respected by his colleagues and peers, and the UARF presidency will uniquely leverage his role as director of STEM research here at the University.”
“It is an honor and privilege to serve as UARF president,” says Chase. “UARF provides an important interface between The University of Akron, industry and the surrounding communities. I look forward to working with University leaders and the faculty to expand on the past successes of UARF and the research programs at the University.”
Image courtesy of Innovation Fund. From left to right: Chris Miller of Fontus Blue, Audrey Wallace and Amy Husted of Komae, Ronny Shalev of Dyad Medical, and Stephanie Ham of OncoSolutions
Fontus Blue, which received a $50,000 Innovation Fund “B” Award, has a cloud-based software that helps water treatment plants optimize their use of treatment chemicals and processes, resulting in exceptional water quality with reduced operating costs. Today treatment plant operators don’t have a way to quickly and reliably tell how changing the amount of one chemical will affect the need for others, so they often use more chemicals than necessary. Decision Blue® uses real-world data and unique measures developed at the University of Akron, along with advanced multi-component optimization mathematics, to evaluate millions of possible combinations of treatment chemical dosage levels and search for cost-effective solutions. Fontus Blue, which is housed in the Akron Global Business Accelerator, is using the Innovation Fund award to a hire software developer and add features to its platform. The company already has 12 water utilities in six states using its platform.
Komae, which was awarded a $50,000 Innovation Fund "B" Award, is applying the sharing economy to the babysitting market, which is valued at $50 billion. In Greek, Komae means Village. For parents, it means free-time. The startup has developed a free app that allows parents to create a personalized social network—called their Village—to quickly and easily swap sits and schedule playdates with their trusted network of friends. The platform is live in both Apple and Android app stores and over 6,000 families have joined. Komae is using the Innovation Fund award to develop, test, and launch a premium subscription model, improve onboarding and user experience, and increase customer retention and engagement. The company is housed at the Akron Global Business Accelerator and is part of Flashstarts, Jumpstart, and The Bit Factory.
OncoSolutions, which received a $25,000 Innovation Fund “A” Award, is building a drug screening technology that generates 3D cancer cell models that mimic tumors in the body. Today’s cancer drugs are tested on 2D models (flat layers of cancer cells grown in a petri dish) before they’re tested on animals. But the differences between 2D models and real tumors in the body result in a high failure rate—50 to 80percent—in the animal studies. OncoSolutions’ 3D cancer cell model technology is a robotic and automated technology that meets industry standards for robustness and can accommodate 16 times the number of drugs than existing 3D model methods. The company expects its technology to reduce animal drug failure rates by half. The Innovation Fund award will supplement OncoSolution’s Ohio Third Frontier TVSF Phase 2 award and help the startup perform validation studies.
I-Corps startups have received significant support from Innovation Fund in 2017. In addition to Fontus Blue, Komae and OncoSolutions, two other I-Corps graduate startups – O2 RegenTech and Triple Beam Technologies – received Innovation Fund awards this year.
The Innovation Fund, founded by the Lorain County Community College Foundation, is Northeast Ohio’s most active and successful early-stage fund. It awards technology-based startups up to $100,000 so they can validate their technologies and business concepts. The Innovation Fund averages six funding awards each quarter and fills the capital needs of businesses at the earliest stage of development, before they can attract angel and venture capital funding. Innovation Fund awards are made with funds from the Ohio Third Frontier, which have been combined with matching support and contributions from the Innovation Fund partners. These partners include the University of Akron, the University of Akron Research Foundation, Braintree, Cleveland State University, the Great Lakes Innovation and Development Enterprise (GLIDE), the Lorain County Community College Foundation, Stark State College, Youngstown State University, the Youngstown Business Incubator, and Northeast Ohio Medical University.