Profiles of seven businesses aided by the entrepreneurial ecosystem
(This story is a companion to Grow Your Own: How Southeast Ohio is becoming a hotspot for technology commercialization and entrepreneurs from the Autumn/Winter 2012 issue of Perspectives magazine.)
The Product: A more efficient system for algae to feed on carbon dioxide than what’s currently on the market.
The Market: Companies that grow algae for biofuels, environmental remediation, nutritional supplements.
Back story: Founded by Ohio University engineers David Bayless, Ben Stuart and Jesus Pagan. Developed from faculty-created technology that explored how cyanobacteria—commonly known as pond scum—could clean up air pollution.
Ecosystem status: Recipient of TechGROWTH coaching and growth grant, recipient of Third Frontier funding to develop product prototype and testing. Innovation Center client.
Lessons learned: “It’s a well-functioning environment to get small businesses started here,” says Bayless. “I’m not a business guy. They’ve made it so that faculty don’t have to be businesspeople. They can be the visionaries for the technology. Frankly, that’s a model that really works well.”
Company: Global Cooling
The Product: Portable, ultra-low-temperature freezers that are 50 percent more energy efficient than existing products on the market.
The Market: Scientific laboratories that need to preserve biological specimens, pharmaceutical products.
Back story: The product uses the company’s core technology, a free-piston stirling engine that does not use any life-limiting bearings and seals, or oil, and the moving components are supported by non-contact gas bearings.
Ecosystem status: Recipient of TechGROWTH coaching, which has led to a total investment of $2.4 million to date. Awarded an Ohio job creation tax credit. The company has a six-member executive team and is hiring employees at its manufacturing facility at Athens County’s industrial park.
Lessons learned: “Our latest freezer has been very well received by customers. Thanks to all the support we’ve received, we are well on our way to becoming the world’s only manufacturer of sustainable high efficiency freezers,” says CEO Neill Lane.
Company: Promiliad Biopharma
The Product: New antibiotic compounds that could be developed into drugs that might combat the “superbugs” resistant to antibiotics already on the market.
The Market: Pharmaceutical corporations
Back story: The compounds were developed by Ohio University chemists Steve Bergmeier and Mark McMills and University of Montana researcher Nigel Priestley, who founded Promiliad in 2002.
Ecosystem status: Recipient of TechGROWTH growth grant and venture capital investment, as well as federal technology/small business funding. Affiliate of Innovation Center.
Lessons Learned: “(The TechGROWTH investment grant) is huge step for us because it’s the first real investment in the company,” Bergmeier says. “It’s a validation that what we’re doing is good – that someone else believes in it enough to put some money into it.”
Company: Flare Code
The Product: Digital media technology that uses a quick-response (QR) code and optimizes web sites for mobile phones.
The Market: Companies that need a quick, efficient way to make multiple web sites accessible on various types of mobile phones.
Back story: Developed by a team of Ohio University students, led by journalism majors Niklos Salontay and Ian Bowman-Henderson, interested in new media technologies.
Ecosystem status: Won student “Pitch Your Plan” competition, which led to a growth grant and then a six-figure investment from TechGROWTH. Innovation Center client. Participated in competitive Columbus-based digital media boot camp in summer 2011. Technology has been used by Columbus Dispatch, WOUB Center for Public Media, The Post student newspaper. Official product launch at the March 2012 South by Southwest Festival in Austin, Texas.
Lessons Learned: “Without (TechGROWTH funding) we probably wouldn’t be doing this today,” says Salontay, who reports that the company is now in talks with a bigger investor. “We’re very much an Athens-based company. We’re really interested in hiring people from within the university ecosystem.”
The Product: The “Ecofoot,” a mounting system for solar panel installation.
The Market: Solar installation companies that provide products and service to commercial building owners, residential customers, government agencies, and others.
Back story: CEO Brian Wildes identified the need for the product while working for Athens solar installation company Third Sun Solar.
Ecosystem status: Recipient of TechGROWTH grants, investment, and coaching. Angel fund support from ECOTAF. Innovation Center client. A $160,000 loan from the Athens County Community Improvement Corporation.
Lessons Learned: “I came to TechGROWTH before I was able to raise funds on my own. The help has been invaluable,” says Wildes, who is now seeking $500,000 to $1 million from investors for international marketing and additional product development.
Company: First Biotech, Inc.
The Product: Reagents for biotechnology research. A site-directed DNA mutagenesis kit designed for large plasmids is the first product. “Instead of working weeks or even months using conventional methods, scientists can now use our kit to accomplish the same results in only few days,” says founder Louay Hallak.
The Market: Private, government, or university science laboratories.
Back story: After receiving initial help from Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio State University, and TechColumbus, Hallak chose to relocate to the Innovation Center in 2011 to access laboratory space and business coaching and funding opportunities from TechGROWTH Ohio.
Ecosystem status: First Biotech received investments from TechGROWTH Ohio and Southern Ohio Creates Companies in spring 2012 for the purchase of equipment and supplies, hiring necessary employees, and marketing of the new technologies.
Lessons learned: The ecosystem is building a hub of startup businesses in Southeast Ohio that will, in turn, attract more to the area, Hallak forecasts.
The Product: A device that mitigates tinnitus, a persistent ringing in the ears, as well as hearing loss.
The Market: Audiologists who treat civilian and military patients. Tinnitus is the top reported service-connected disability by veterans returning from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan who’ve been exposed to explosions and other combat noises.
Back story: In 2005, Jeffrey DiGiovanni and Stephen Rizzo developed the idea for a device that, much like commercial digital audio players, allows users to listen to patient-customizable prerecorded sounds.
Ecosystem status: In 2011, TechGROWTH made a $378,000 venture-capital investment in Sanuthera for product development, marketing, a clinical trial, and expenses associated with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval process. In summer 2012, the company tested the device, which they expect to manufacture in Southeast Ohio and have on the market in six months.
Lessons learned: The investment “took what would have otherwise been just a good idea and gave us the resources to do it,” DiGiovanni says. “Without it, we wouldn’t have been able to go anywhere with it.”
- Compiled by Karen Sottosanti and Andrea Gibson