UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — A little less than two years after the launch of the Fund for Innovation, Invent Penn State has backed nearly 50 emerging Penn State technologies and has provided startup funding to promising new ventures that were born out of the program.

“Although many universities have commercialization programs,” said Vice President for Research Neil Sharkey, “the speed and volume of success that Penn State has experienced recently is unique.”

The Fund for Innovation jointly administers awards in partnership with commercialization grant programs in the academic colleges, including the Eberly College of Science Lab Bench to Commercialization Program, the College of Agricultural Sciences RAIN Grant Program, and the College of Engineering ENGINE Grant Program. The College of Health and Human Development, the College of Education, and the College of Information Science and Technology also have participated. Inventors from all colleges are welcome to participate, and their innovations may receive grants at various stages of commercialization.

The new ventures, along with their grants and awards, include:

AvoColor by Persea Naturals, LLC

(RAIN Grant Program, Fund for Innovation, Jump Start Award)

Led by researcher Gregory R. Ziegler from the College of Agricultural Sciences and CEO Robert Hicks, Persea has developed a range of vibrant, natural food colorants derived from the seed of the avocado. After conducting initial product testing with a major manufacturer, the company is working to accelerate the introduction of its full product line, AvoColor, to the food-processing industry.

Boragen Inc. 

(Lab Bench to Commercialization Award, Fund for Innovation)

Stemming from initial research funded through the Eberly College of Science’s Lab Bench to Commercialization Program and the Fund for Innovation, Stephen J. Benkovic and C. Tony Liu of the Department of Chemistry co-founded Boragen to develop next-generation fungicides to improve crop-pest resistance. Their technology also works toward more sustainable farming practices by mitigating fungicide resistance and reducing the amount of chemicals applied per acre. Bypassing the need for a Jump Start Award, Boragen recently received $10 million in venture investment from AgTech Accelerator.

Heliome Biotech Inc.

(RAIN Grant Program, Fund for Innovation, Jump Start Award)

Developing work started by Andrew Patterson, professor of molecular toxicology in the College of Agricultural Sciences, Heliome has created an orally delivered, tissue-selective drug that aims to combat fatty liver disease. Unlike similar therapies, the drug is not applied systemically or absorbed into the bloodstream, suggesting a much lower likelihood of side effects. The startup is raising additional funding to expedite clinical development and commercialization.

Helios Biotechnology Pharmaceuticals, LLC 

(Lab Bench to Commercialization Award, Fund for Innovation, Jump Start Award)

Founded on research by Yanming Wang and Gong Chen in the Department of Chemistry, Helios has developed a novel technology that may be useful in the treatment of certain cancers and auto-immune diseases. Initial studies with cell cultures and mice show selective reduction of tumor cell growth, and appear to increase positive effects of Food and Drug Administration-approved therapies.

Intravent Medical, LLC

(Fund for Innovation, Jump Start Award)

Building on work by Dr. Will Hazard of Penn State Hershey Medical Center, Intravent offers a medical device that incorporates imaging technology to improve bedside placement of intraventricular drains in neurosurgical intensive care patients.

TEAMology, LLC

(Fund for Innovation, Jump Start Award)

From the College of Education, the research team of Richard J. Hazler, JoLynn V. Carney and Linsey Covert has developed holistic school programming to decrease bullying and create more collaborative elementary-age environments. The program, Project TEAM, is a cost-effective curriculum and interactive web software that meets mandated requirements for bully prevention programs. The company currently has 12 schools under contract, and is working to roll out the next stage of its software.

Virolock Technologies

(Lab Bench to Commercialization Award, Fund for Innovation, Jump Start Award)

Founded by interdisciplinary research leads Mauricio Terrones, Yin-Ting (Tim) Yeh and Nestor Perea-Lopez, this startup has engineered a unique, portable platform for advanced virus detection from field samples. The technology allows capture and enrichment of viral particles, while removing host and/or sample contaminants. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has validated its use for plum pox, a virus that affects stone fruits, and the company expects forthcoming research to validate additional viruses.

These seven technologies are part of a tech transfer and venture story that includes: 91 patents issued to Penn State, 51 licenses and options executed, and 50-plus companies graduated from the Ben Franklin Technology Partner’s TechCelerator program and innovation hubs across the University system over the last two years. Companies are being developed by a rich mix of students, staff and community members.

How the Fund for Innovation works

The Fund for Innovation aims to de-risk and accelerate what can be a challenging commercialization process for emerging technologies. Individual academic colleges within the University initiate this process and form the backbone of the program. Twice annually associate deans for research may issue requests for proposals, then select those research projects with the highest potential for commercial success. The college provides commercialization funding to the top projects, and that support is matched by the Fund for Innovation.

Commercialization funding is provided in three stages. Initial awards support proof-of-concept work to develop an application or prototype and further define the potential of the innovation. The second phase includes working with Smeal College of Business MBA students to do proof-of-relevance work to determine the market potential of the innovation. If proof of relevance has been established, a decision is made whether to license the technology or form a company. If licensing is chosen, the technology is marketed to industry. Select technologies may receive $75,000 in a third stage of funding to form a company.  

Along the way, the Invent Penn State team assists inventors in finding numerous resources, including accelerator programs like Happy Valley LaunchBox and the TechCelerator, Penn State Small Business Development Center resources, potential longer-term funding sources like Ben Franklin Technology Partners, and affordable operating space, like the incubator at Innovation Park.

“From what we observe amongst our peers,” said Sharkey, “we believe we have developed a highly productive innovation enterprise, both for innovations born of the deep craft of our faculty and the fresh eyes of our student and community entrepreneurs.”

The Fund for Innovation is one of many examples of the University’s commitment to becoming a world-class source of innovation and entrepreneurship.

“We are nurturing a robust pipeline of new technologies and startups,” Sharkey said. “And by doing so, developing the University’s massive potential to contribute to economic development in Pennsylvania.”

Penn State faculty members interested in submitting a proposal to participate in the Fund for Innovation should contact the associate dean for research in their college.

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