Entrepreneur coaches give inventions market-ready push


Healing chronic wounds. Making a shatterproof touch-screen. Improving cancer diagnosis. Enhancing environmental detection. Minimizing patient discomfort. The pioneering research by faculty and students at The University of Akron create technologies designed to improve lives around the world. These innovations are now one step closer to becoming real-world applications — thanks to a new training program designed to coach teams on how to best prepare their product for the marketplace.

Bing Yu and Vivek Krishna

Bing Yu, assistant professor, and Vivek Krishna, graduate assistant, both in biomedical engineering, are on the I-Corps@Ohio team developing SmartME, a smartphone-based diagnostic tool for cancer diagnosis.

As announced by the Ohio Department of Higher Education (formerly the Ohio Board of Regents), five out of the eight research teams selected for the first I-Corps@Ohio (short for Innovation Corps) program are from The University of Akron. I-Corps@Ohio is a seven-week training program where teams of faculty and students are matched with industry entrepreneurial mentors to evaluate market need and commercial potential of their patent-pending university technologies. Modeled after and approved by the National Science Foundation’s successful I-Corps Sites, the goal of the training is to enable teams to make informed decisions on whether to go forward with startup companies or other forms of technology commercialization.

In 2013, UA was one of three national recipients of the NSF I-Corps Sites program.

“That program, led by Elyse Ball and Daniel Hampu, has been extremely successful in supporting mentored technology commercialization teams,” says Barry Rosenbaum, senior fellow, University of Akron Research Foundation. “UA received five of eight I-Corps@Ohio awards because the teams were graduates of our I-Corps Sites program."

Strong mentors support innovative work

A proven track record, structured support and a strong network of northeast Ohio entrepreneurial ecosystem for technology startups “attracts strong mentorship for faculty and student teams,” continues Rosenbaum, “and is what sets UA apart.”

Teams kick off in Columbus on July 21 at a three-day meeting to study business principles and entrepreneurial acumen. The next six weeks are spent interviewing 100 people – potential customers, distributors and manufacturers – to validate, revise, or tear down their ideas for commercial application of their technology. The program concludes in Columbus with a final presentation, where teams formally present a next-step that is highly individualized to their findings.

The innovative ideas and their team members in this summer’s I-Corps@Ohio cohort are as follows (in no order):

  • PolyLux: Light Switchable Pressure Sensitive Medical Adhesives – Photoreversible technology to facilitate easy removal of bandages and minimize pain, discomfort and injury to a patient’s skin. Team members are: Abraham Joy, assistant professor of polymer science (principal investigator); Kaushik Mishra, graduate assistant, polymer science (entrepreneurial lead); and Gopal Nadkarni, director, Proof of Concept Initiative, University of Akron (mentor).
  • SmartME: Smartphone-based Dual-modality Microendoscope for Cancer Diagnosis – a specialized diagnostic tool that is portable, affordable, easy to use, and globally connects medical staffs in remote and rural areas. Team members are: Bing Yu, assistant professor of biomedical engineering (principal investigator); En Cheng, assistant professor of computer science (co-principal investigator); Vivek Krishna, graduate assistant, biomedical engineering (entrepreneurial lead); and Dean R. Koch, president and CEO, Cervilenz Inc. (mentor).
  • OXAID: Oxygenated Hydrogel Dressing for Chronic Wound Healing – The first wound dressing capable of delivering moisture, oxygen and antimicrobial elements for healing chronic wounds. Team members are: Nic Leipzig, Robert Iredell Associate Professor, chemical and biomolecular engineering (principal investigator); Pritam Patil, graduate assistant, chemical and biomolecular engineering (entrepreneurial lead); Jeffery Zimmerman, undergraduate student, biomedical engineering (entrepreneurial lead); and Andreas Inmann, president and CEO, O2 RegenTech LLC (mentor).
  • Solution-Processed Ultrasensitive Infrared Polymer Photodetectors – sensing and communication technology designed to operate at room temperature, are low cost and lightweight, and accomplish in a single technology what currently requires five separate photodetectors. Team members are: Xiong Gong, associate professor of polymer engineering (principal investigator); Chang Liu, graduate assistant, polymer engineering (entrepreneurial lead); and William Nemeth, director, Burton D. Morgan Mentoring Program, JumpStart Inc. (mentor).
  • Low Cost Transparent Conductive Coating for Touch Screen and Solar Cell Panel Electrodes – a touch screen technology designed to improve durability because it can be fabricated on plastic to avoid cracking, and flexibility enabling new shapes and more flexible components in smart phones and solar cells. Team members are: Yu Zhu, assistant professor, polymer science (principal investigator); Tianda He, graduate assistant, polymer science (entrepreneurial lead); Clinton Taubert, graduate assistant, polymer science (entrepreneurial lead); Tim Fahey, director of cluster acceleration, Team NEO FlexMatters (mentor).

Of the other eight winning teams, two are from The Ohio State University and one is from Case Western Reserve University. Ohio is the first to have a statewide collaboration based on the NSF model, and fully funded by the state. The I-Corps@Ohio program is governed by a board composed of representatives from the Ohio Department of Higher Education and six collaborating Ohio academic institutions: The University of Akron; University of Cincinnati; Lorain County Community College; The Ohio State University; Ohio University; and the University of Toledo, with Ohio State’s TEC Institute providing administrative oversight for the program.

Media contact: Lisa Craig, 330-972-7429 or lmc91@uakron.edu.