Posted: April 14, 2009
CU Entrepreneurship Week underway
Transfering technology from the lab into the marketplace focus of week's eventsBy Dan Ray
With many national banks scraping by on government-sponsored life support and some of the country’s largest industries standing on the brink of collapse, a number of Colorado business people and innovators say that the path to recovery will not be led by the old industries or old ways of doing business, but by entirely new ones.
This is the message being sent by many attendees and participants at the University of Colorado’s Entrepreneurship Week event in Boulder this week. Monday’s kickoff luncheon at the University Memorial Center highlighted strategies for converting breakthroughs in the laboratory into breakout successes in the marketplace.
“Over the last five years, CU’s been in the top 10 among all U.S. universities for creating startups,” said David Allen, associate vice president for technology transfer at the university, during his speech Monday. “Some universities are like deer in headlights when it comes to this. But others, like MIT, have become experts; and CU is coming very close to this.”
Gov. Bill Ritter will speak Thursday about the current "ecosystem" of entrepreneurship and the week’s activities conclude Friday with the announcement of who's won the CU New Venture Challenge and its $12,000 prize. For more about CU’s Entrepreneurship Week and a schedule of events click here.
More than 200 CU faculty, CU students and entrepreneurs – many of whom did not fit into simply one category – attended Monday’s luncheon.
Among the stories they heard was that of CU spinoff company, ION Engineering, which provided an example of how technology developed at the university can become a business out in the world.
“Rich Noble and Doug Gin invented an ionic salt that has the great tendency to absorb carbon dioxide, but there was no company and there was no way to bring this to the market,” said Tim Bour, executive director of the Boulder Innovations Center. “That’s when we got involved.”
In 11 short months this laboratory discovery was converted into a successful startup company, thanks in part to the willingness of CU professors Rich Noble and Doug Gin to seek help with the BIC, Bour said. ION Engineering is now entering the pilot phase for removing carbon dioxide from the air with its invention.
“We had the technology to separate CO2 from other gases, but we had no idea what it took to start a company,” said Dean Camper, a research associate in the department of chemical and biological engineering who works in Gin’s lab. “We met the BIC, and they helped us to meet the right people, get a business plan and optimize that business plan.”
Professor Gin said that much of the credit for spinning the lab’s invention into a company should be given to his students.
“These guys saw that it might be a very effective replacement for CO2 capture,” he said. “It’s great that we have people with their finger on the pulse of energy, environment and health.”
Some of those attending the event were at similar stages with their lab-launched startups.
“I’m hoping I can learn how to be a professor and run a startup company at the same time,” said Joseph Brown, a doctoral student in the mechanical engineering department who began his own startup, Nanocomp Technologies, in 2004. “Right now the two seem pretty mutually exclusive.”
Brown attended Monday’s event and presented a poster of his current project: the mechanical testing of nanoscale wires, which could potentially be streamlined into an industry benchmark.
Other posters featured additional technological advances that may present business opportunities, including novel approaches for creating thin film solar cells and an inhalable antibiotic to combat tuberculosis.
Dan Ray is a graduate student at the University of Colorado School of Journalism and Mass Communication.