Tech Transfer, Commercialization Fuel Texas Entrepreneurs
Texas startups benefit from thriving technology transfer and commercialization culture.
Texas has long been heralded as a new frontier. Today, that reputation as a land of opportunity extends to a new generation of entrepreneurs leveraging a vibrant startup, commercialization and technology transfer culture.
Beneficiaries include SolarWinds, which last year topped Forbes annual list of Best Small Companies in America, and GenBand, a global developer of IP infrastructure solutions that has been on the Inc. 5000 fastest-growing companies list since 2007.
The state’s commitment to fostering innovation explains why in 2012 Texas companies generated $924 million in venture funding, fifth highest in the nation, according to the annual MoneyTree report.
“We’re on the front end of that innovation continuum,” says Jodey Arrington, vice chancellor for research and commercialization for the Texas Tech University System, which specializes in the food, fuel and fiber niches. “We screen ideas that emerge from research across our system, conduct initial analysis of marketability and then file patents.”
At that stage, Arrington’s group either licenses the technology to a company or helps start a company and locates sources of capital. “We also connect them to alumni who can serve as investors, mentors or even CEO,” he says.
One success story is Microzap, a Lubbock-based startup inspired by a faculty member’s inventive method to treat bacteria in food and other products. TTU licensed the invention to Don Stull, an alum who serves as CEO, while Dr. Mindy Brashears, who pioneered the technology, is chief scientist. The company’s technology has been shown to significantly reduce Salmonella in food products such as peanuts and jalapenos without a reduction in quality.
Research Valley Innovation Center
The Research Valley Innovation Center, anchored between Bryan and College Station, is a regional economic development corporation that encourages late stage technology transfer from Texas A&M University and its Health Science Center.
Its umbrella specialties are the physical sciences, with an emphasis on engineering, including life science, biotechnology and energy, says Todd McDaniel, president and CEO.
RVIC also supports companies with a distributed R&D model seeking to engage with its university partners on sponsored research. McDaniel says this corporate cross-collaboration makes RVIC unique among economic development agencies in Texas and other states.
Recent RVIC success stories include Ecolyse, which is commercializing a green technology licensed through Texas A&M that controls corrosion in energy pipelines and wastewater treatments; Lynntech, which specializes in new technologies for defense, aerospace and human health; and Kalon Biotherapuetics, a late-stage accelerator in biologics development.
The spirit of innovation in Texas is alive in every region. To respond to growing demands in West Texas, the Development Corporation of Abilene has repositioned Abilene Laboratories through a strategic alliance with Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center, home to The Center for Immunotherapeutics Development.
“This sets the stage for a growing number of resources and services for startup and expanding companies alike,” says Richard Burdine, CEO of the Development Corporation of Abilene.
Abilene Labs offers access to facilities and equipment, as well as scientists and researchers via its relationship with TTUHSC. “AbLABS has a unique specialization in immunotherapeutics and immunodiagnostics not found elsewhere,” Burdine says.
Receptor Logic, a startup in the field of immunology through its proprietary T-Cell Receptor mimic (TCR) technology, is now utilizing the lab’s resources.
Texas Emerging Technology Fund
When it comes to supporting new ventures, Texas puts its money where its mouth is. The Texas Emerging Technology Fund (TETF) offers grants in three categories: Commercialization awards for startups, matching awards for universities and research superiority acquisition funds for recruitment of academic research talent. In addition, the TETF has established Regional Centers of Innovation and Commercialization that provide support for new ventures in a given area, including workforce training for businesses related to research and development.
The commitment by development organizations and the business community in Texas is instrumental in the state’s leadership in technological innovation. Dr. Jon Weidanz, TTUHSC professor and department chairman of Immunotherapeutics and Biotechnology, and chief scientist at Receptor Logic, has seen it firsthand.
Not long ago, he approached Abilene community leaders and discussed progress at the center, as well as future growth needs.
“As always, the leaders understood the situation and bought into the vision,” Weidanz says.