The University of Alabama

AIME and OTT Bring Innovation to Market

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An idea on paper is only words. The challenge comes in trying to bring that idea to life – and then finding someone willing to put money into it. That’s where UA’s Office for Technology Transfer and Alabama Innovation and Mentoring of Entrepreneurs program come into play. The two organizations partner with faculty and staff researchers to bring technologies created at the University to the marketplace for public benefit.

Dr. Rick Swatloski

Dr. Rick Swatloski

“There are a lot of good ideas out there,” said Dr. Richard Swatloski, director of OTT. “But if you can’t do what you say you can or you can’t find someone out there who is willing to write you a check for your widget, it’s not going to go anywhere.”

Established as a full-time office in late 2006, OTT has three main goals: innovation management, start-up assistance and education. It helps faculty, staff and students move ideas into the public sector; assists them in creating new companies around that idea or project; and educates them throughout the process, from licensing the intellectual property to marketing the end result.

Beginning with the idea, UA researchers file their research results or inventions through OTT’s disclosure form, starting the technology-triage process. With the assistance of student teams in OTT, each technology is assessed for patentability, related technology, additional potential applications for the idea, market size and projected growth and potential barriers to market entry.

The triage teams generate a summary of their findings, which OTT forwards to the inventors. The inventors then present their specific technology to UA’s Intellectual Property Committee, which prioritizes the projects. This oftentimes leads to the development of prototypes, business plans, the filing of patents, the search for investors and sometimes the licensing of the invention to off-campus entities.

Dan Daly

Dr. Dan Daly

While OTT works closely with licensing and coaching throughout the process, AIME focuses most of its efforts on bringing the idea into concept and creating a testable prototype that will demonstrate the value the idea will bring to the marketplace, said Dr. Dan Daly, director of AIME.

“Having a prototype specifically developed for an exact market allows the company to go out and demonstrate their products and services and find funding sources,” he said.

In addition, AIME helps the new companies create business plans, apply for NSF SBIR funding and access lab space through the Bama Technology Incubator, from which they can begin incubating prior to reaching full start-up phase.

Daly said his team creates eight to 10 prototypes a year, a number that may grow as they work more closely with 3-D printing as a means to build functional prototypes.

“We’re part of the entrepreneurial ecosystem,” Swatloski said. “We can’t create this ecosystem entirely on our own. We’re a piece of that puzzle. We provide coaching to help inventors understand the market’s needs and customers and then assist them in getting out there and creating a company, which helps the state from an economic development and job creation standpoint.”

525 Solutions

The start-up company 525 Solutions, located in the AIME lab, is working to introduce bandages that contain healing properties to the medical world. Researchers are removing a naturally occurring compound from shrimp shells and using it in developing a new type of bandage – one that contains anti-bacterial properties along with vitamins and minerals to promote healing.

Prototypes were made and sent to a lab specializing in wound-care testing in December 2012. Originally, researchers sent 75 bandages, which normally wouldn’t have been enough to test the normal duration of two days’ wear. The testing lab used one bandage per animal every 14 days, and the results showed the wounds healed faster than previously published research indicated. Additionally, the bandage didn’t irritate the skin of the animals.

“It was early healing, almost 96-97 percent of the wound size was healed,” said Dr. Julia Shamshina, who joined the project in July.

The technology could be particularly beneficial to people who suffer from diabetic ulcers, which account for more than 100,000 amputations each year. One of the keys to the new bandage is something called chitin. Chitin is the material that provides a shrimp shell with its texture. Another ocean organism, seaweed, plays a role in the UA bandage-development process. The researchers combine the chitin with a compound called alginate, present in seaweed, to produce a fiber that would later be woven into a bandage.

Dr. Gabi Gurau, UA alumna and the company’s CEO, said the patent application was submitted in April, but the timetable for when a patent could be awarded is unknown.

525 Solutions won a $150,000 NSF Small Business Innovation Research Fund, based on the discovery, to further develop the bandage and potentially bring it to market. Dr. Robin D. Rogers, holder of the Robert Ramsay Chair of Chemistry at UA, is recognized as a world leader in the use of ionic liquids and is an owner/founder of 525.  If successful, the bandage project will spin out into a new subsidiary company, ILChiTec.