Voinovich School partners with Stirling Ultracold to produce big win for region and state

Ohio University-supported Stirling Ultracold, a privately-held developer and manufacturer of ultra-low temperature (ULT) freezers, signed a definitive merger agreement on Monday, March 22, to be acquired by publicly-traded BioLife Solutions.

The size of the acquisition makes it the largest venture-backed exit in southeast Ohio and one of the larger exits in the state, indicated Lynn Gellermann, executive director of TechGROWTH Ohio and Ohio University’s Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Affairs’ associate dean of innovation partnerships.

“This merger is a testament to the partnership between Ohio University and Ohio Third Frontier, along with the Ohio Development Services Agency, to form TechGROWTH Ohio, and the role that higher education and the state can play in building tech-based economic development in rural communities,” he said.

TechGROWTH Ohio, a program of Ohio University’s Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Affairs, was the original lead investor in Stirling Ultracold at its inception in 2010 and provided multiple rounds of follow-on funding during the company’s startup and growth stages.  TechGROWTH also provided services to the company, including business plan development, service on the board of directors, executive recruitment and investor network development. The Ohio Innovation Fund, an early-stage venture fund founded by Ohio University, Ohio State University and Kent State University, also became another investor.

"Ohio University is committed to taking a leading role in economic development for Appalachian Ohio,” Ohio University President M. Duane Nellis said. “After nearly 12 years of sustained investment, services and talent from TechGROWTH Ohio and the Ohio Innovation Fund, Stirling Ultracold’s success story is an outstanding example of how Ohio University and our regional partners are assisting local companies and expanding regional economic opportunity."

An emerging, world-class manufacturer of ULT freezers based in Athens, Stirling Ultracold has helped to build the local economy of southeastern Ohio, employing more than 150 highly skilled employees located mostly in the region. Following the early second quarter 2021 close of the transaction, BioLife intends to keep the Stirling Ultracold brand and staff members intact.

In the last year, Stirling Ultracold has been at the forefront of COVID-19 vaccination efforts by providing the only line of ULT freezer systems capable of storing any mRNA vaccine requiring -20°C to -86°C thermal protection, earning national attention and escalating global sales.

"This pandemic has galvanized pharmaceutical research. With critical medicines and therapies coming to market faster than ever before, and new advances in science testing the limits of treatment, ultracold storage must be ready to support the breadth of needs in the biopharmaceutical, government and academic research, clinical trials, biobanking, and cell, regenerative and gene therapy markets," said Dusty Tenney, CEO of Stirling Ultracold, in a release.

Stirling Ultracold revolutionized the ULT freezer market in 2010 by developing and releasing the first Energy Star™ certified ULT freezer in the world. The company possesses over 80 patents on various applications of the Stirling technology.

One of the driving forces behind the Voinovich School's ability to kindle this type successful outcome is the Appalachian New Economy Partnership (ANEP) appropriation through the Ohio Department of Higher Education. Since fiscal year 2001, ANEP funding to the Voinovich School has proven to be a driving force propelling a new era in regional economic growth and opportunity.
“This along with many other partners and initiatives demonstrate the role that higher education plays in supporting local and regional innovation and entrepreneurship,” Voinovich School Dean Mark Weinberg said. “By leveraging investment made by the state of Ohio through the Appalachian New Economy Partnership, along with Ohio University resources, Voinovich School programs have generated more than $3.6 billion in economic impact since 2015.”
Building on the momentum created by ANEP, the Voinovich School secured Ohio Third Frontier funding to launch TechGROWTH Ohio. As Ohio Third Frontier’s regional entrepreneurial service provider, TechGROWTH Ohio provides technology start-up companies in the 19-county Southeast Ohio area access to business assistance and sources of capital. More than 2,300 area start-ups and entrepreneurs, including Stirling Ultracold, have generated over $678 million in additional local economic activity with TechGROWTH Ohio’s support.

March 26, 2021
Staff reports