"It takes money to make money" may be a shopworn cliché, but clichés always have a basis in hard facts. An innovator can have some great ideas, but without the capital and backing to develop them and bring them to market, they can end up languishing forever as scribbles in a notebook. It can be an even more daunting situation when the up-and-coming innovator is up against big corporations like BASF or 3M, with all the research, development and marketing clout that they can muster.
That's what brought Launch Tennessee into being; this public/private partnership helps connect venture capitalists and other key players with entrepreneurial-minded innovators. The group recognizes that startups currently create more than 65 percent of new jobs, and hopes to set the stage for job creation and economic growth across Tennessee.
In mid-October, two teams from Tennessee Tech University's College of Engineering presented their pitches in Nashville at a Launch Tennessee event hosted at the Vanderbilt University campus.
Promethia Labs is an LLC corporation consisting of Chemical Engineering professor Holly Stretz, TTU graduate and research engineer Jeff Thompson and local businessman Allen Conger. Promethia has done extensive research in tunable therapeutic hydrogels that can be used in clinical diagnostics, drug purification and delivery, cancer research and much more. Conventional hydrogels can be difficult to analyze, and a torn hydrogel structure can mean starting from square one again.
Stretz, Thompson and Promethia have partnered with Cookeville Regional Medical Center, using the MRI facility's magnets toward research on hydrogels. Their work has led to a patent and a research proposal submitted to the National Institutes of Health.
TTU was also represented by Chemical Engineering professor Joseph Biernacki and graduate student Ojad Chaudhari. One of Biernacki's specialties has long been Portland cement and its properties. Biernacki and his team recognize that concrete structures are subject to shrinkage and cracking, which compromises their strength. With eight billion tons of the material produced globally each year, there's a broad market and demand for shrinkage-reducing admixtures.
Biernacki and team are working on developing more effective admixtures with computer-aided design to narrow down possible compounds, rather than older trial-and-error methodologies. Since 2009, the team has received several National Science Foundation grants toward research and prototyping, including a still-pending NSF I-Corps grant to be used toward business team development.