University of Akron, Kent State Launch Start-Up Companies
The University of Akron recently provided medical giant Boston Scientific with a polymer that improves the coating of stents and pacemaker leads for heart patients. Boston Scientific President Ray Elliott says it is “the polymer discovery of the generation.”
Such is everyday life at the University of Akron, which is gaining ground over better-known research institutions when it comes to licensing and commercializing technology. A recent study by national consulting firm Innovation Associates found that smaller universities such as the University of Akron were often more productive at launching start-up companies than traditional superstar tech universities with bigger R&D budgets.
“Our $50 million budget is small compared the $500 million to $750 million in research grants that are allocated annually to universities like Stanford, MIT and Ohio State — but our results are better invention-wise,” says Kenneth Preston, University of Akron associate vice president of research and director of technology transfer.
Preston is also involved with the University of Akron Research Foundation, a private, non-profit entity that manages intellectual properties for the university.
“For example, the independent Research Foundation makes all decisions regarding patents, trademarks and copyrights, then the university owns all of them,” he says. “The Foundation is a group of people with much experience in the business world, many with 30 years or more with major corporations. We know how to secure grants for research.”
A Company Full of Ph.D.s
The Foundation also funds start-up companies to help the region's economy.
“Akron Polymer Systems was started six years ago by two faculty members, and today there are 15 former students with Ph.D.s who are employed there,” Preston says.
To date, the University of Akron and the Foundation have teamed up to raise $50 million in private funding to launch more than 40 companies.
Meanwhile, innovation success is also occurring at Kent State University. One of Kent State's key research initiatives is its Liquid Crystal Institute, which is internationally renowned for advancements in liquid crystal display technology for items such as watches, cell phones and electronic scoreboards.
“I started working at LCI in 1996, and there have been 17 start-up companies launched by the Institute since then,” says Greg Wilson, Kent State University associate vice president for economic development and strategic partnerships. “The start-up companies include Kent Displays, which now has 75 employees.”
Wilson says several of the start-ups are tenants at nearby Kent State Centennial Research Park.
“All of the companies are on the cutting-edge of research and technology,” he says. “In fact, one such company — Crystal Diagnostics — is involved with beach-water testing advancements and recently made a major breakthrough.”
The Water's Fine
Wilson says the breakthrough helps communities that must close beaches after bacteria are found in the water. The traditional way to test water had always been to collect culture samples and let them sit for two days to see what's growing.
“But now, Crystal Diagnostics has invented a rapid biosensor that can tell what's in the water in only 20 minutes,” he says. “If, for example, Santa Monica in California had to close its beaches for two days, it would result in a huge hit to their local economy. So Crystal Diagnostics is working with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in California to introduce this incredible biosensor innovation.”