Research Highlights / Full Story

Enhancing the Entrepreneurship Environment

'Venture Creations works with RIT faculty, students, alumni, and staff to transform university R&D and business ideas into concrete development plans and working companies," notes Bill Jones, the incubator director. 'We really try to take the entrepreneurial spirit created on campus and transform it into business development."

Jones' team works closely with the Simone Center, the Intellectual Property Management Office, and other university departments to identify potential entrepreneurs and marketable technology. They then assist incubator ompanies in developing a business model, assessing potential competitors, and analyzing the components necessary to bring a product to market. Venture Creations also assists in identifying RIT expertise that can assist with product testing and process improvement.

Notable graduates of Venture Creations include Opticool Technologies, a maker of novel cooling systems for large computer data centers, Cerion Energy, a manufacturer of eco-friendly diesel fuel additives, and Sweetwater Energy, which produces low-cost, concentrated sugars for use in biodiesel and biochemical manufacturing. All three have set up stand-alone facilities in the Rochester community that are producing jobs and economic development for the region.

In addition, several incubator firms have been purchased by larger companies, showcasing the growing national recognition for RIT's business creation efforts. For example, the social networking company dotSyntax was purchased by in 2011, the third largest social network in the world. Also, in 2012 the software firm Palantiri Systems was acquired by the app development company ThinkWorx.

'The success of our graduates illustrates the potential for university-led incubation as well as the potential that exists on campus," Jones adds.

The Clean Energy Incubator, BlackBox, and FluxData further exemplify how the incubation process works in practice and showcase the positive outcomes of technology transfer.

The Clean Energy Incubator: The New Energy Economy

RIT has long been a center of alternative energy innovation featuring cutting-edge research in sustainable mobility, solar energy, and fuel cell design. The university's Clean Energy Incubator (CEI), a partnership between Venture Creations and the Golisano Institute for Sustainability (GIS), builds on that track record by helping to transition these innovations into clean energy startups and utilizing RIT's expertise to assist additional early stage companies.

'A common resource that many potential startups lack is the technical capacity to test and improve designs, prototype products, and conduct detailed market assessments," notes Nabil Nasr, director of GIS. 'CEI helps RIT researchers investigate the business potential of their clean energy innovations, while also providing access to the technical skills incubator tenants need to be successful."

CEI was founded in 2009, thanks to a grant from the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA). It is one of six NYSERDA incubators in the state and focuses on promoting job creation and clean energy business development in the Finger Lakes Region. CEI's nine tenants and three recent graduates currently account for 79 jobs and have raised over $22 million in private capital.

'The state's clean energy incubator program is fostering ideas from concept to commercialization, thereby supporting the growth of the clean energy industry in New York," adds Frank Murray, CEO of NYSERDA.

A Platform for Success

'CEI exemplifies the symbiotic relation- ship between university-based innovation and commercialization," says Mark Coleman, a senior program manager with the Golisano Institute and the incubator's manager of technical development. 'We work with RIT faculty, researchers, staff, and students to support tenants in trans- forming new technology into marketable products that can ultimately lead to sales, production buildup, graduation, and the creation of stand-alone facilities."

For example, incubator tenant RNY Solar is utilizing RIT expertise to enhance the development of novel solar cell technology that could greatly increase the efficiency and quality of traditional solar energy systems. The firm is working with Seth Hubbard, associate professor of physics and a researcher in the NanoPower Research Labs, on a NYSERDA-funded effort to test a prototype spectral-splitting concentrated photovoltaic system. It splits light into multiple spectral bands, which are then focused on specific components of the solar cell, greatly increasing the efficiency in which light is converted to electricity. The system's solar-to-electrical efficiency could reach 40%, compared with the 28% efficiency of current commercial systems.

'Professor Hubbard's expertise along with the access to RIT lab facilities has been invaluable as we develop and test our second-generation prototype and prepare to offer products for market," adds Jim Munro, RNY Solar's chief technology officer.

From Startups to Small Businesses

As firms graduate from the incubator they are able to move out of the startup phase and ultimately branch out to become successful small businesses.

Recent graduate Vnomics is considered a leader in the growing field of telematics, the integration of telecommunications and informatics. It has developed novel fleet monitoring technology, which integrates vehicle sensor systems and information on potential mechanical issues into a single communication flow that can be trans- mitted to drivers and fleet managers. The system can greatly improve preventive maintenance, driver training, and overall fleet management, and has the potential to increase fuel efficiency and enhance the integration of alternative fuel vehicles into large public and private fleets.

The company currently has business relationships with a host of corporations and government agencies, including the Department of Defense, AmeriQuest Transportation Services, and Klein Steel Blackbox Biometrics Service. In 2011, its software package FleetKnowSys was a finalist for an International Telematics Award in the Best Telematics Service for Commercial Vehi- cles category.

Vnomics was initially spun out of research conducted by the Golisano Institute and has licensed several patents and software copyrights developed by the center. The company continues to partner with GIS researchers for assistance in initial prototyping and testing, software support, and new product development.

'Being located in CEI has been critical to our success," says Ed McCarthy, vice president for engineering at Vnomics. 'The incubator gave us all the conditions we needed to grow, from office space, to access to university resources, to a networking infrastructure. These resources have been invaluable to us."

Blackbox Biometrics (B3): Reducing Traumatic Brain Injury

According to the Defense and Veteran's Brain Injury Center, close to 200,000 American servicemen and women have suffered a traumatic brain injury over the last decade. David Borkholder, RIT associate professor of electrical and microelectronic engineering and founder of Blackbox Biometrics, notes that a large number of these injuries are caused by the supersonic waves that accompany a blast, which can move through the cranial cavity, causing stress and strain on the brain.

'This wave can affect people who are not in close proximity to the explosion and often leaves little physical evidence that an injury has been suffered, making it difficult to identify individuals requiring immediate treatment," he adds.

Borkholder founded B3 to assist the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) in producing a portable dosimeter sensor or blast gauge, which can be worn on the helmet or uniform. The device monitors wave exposure and alerts personnel if further medical review should be pursued. The company, which is just over a year old, currently has 13 full-time and four part-time employees and is ramping up to support over 13,000 troops currently serving on active duty.

Designing a Solution

Borkholder and a team of RIT professors and students originally worked with DARPA to research, develop, and pilot the blast gauge. The initial device was field tested and validated by RIT in concert with DARPA engineers and military personnel in 2011. Following the successful completion of the testing phase DARPA was interested in expanding deployment of the blast gauge and discussed potential options with Bork- holder and RIT.

'I had been involved with several previous startup companies and saw good market opportunities for the blast gauge," Borkholder says. 'In addition, I was committed to ensuring the technology would be widely available for our troops and wanted to see it through to its implementation phase."

Borkholder ultimately decided to start B3 and worked with RIT's Intellectual Property Management Office to license the technology developed under the research contract to the new startup. RIT has also applied for three patents related to the project.

The company joined Venture Creations in June 2011 and incubator staff assisted Borkholder in developing design and manufacturing space, while also supporting his search for a president and chief operations officer.

'The assistance of RIT and Venture Creations in the initial development of the company was extremely helpful in getting this off the ground," he adds.

FluxData Inc.: Enhancing Multispectral Imaging

Multispectral imaging captures data at multiple frequencies along the electro- magnetic spectrum and can be used to collect information beyond the range of the human visual system. It is a central technique used in space-based remote sensing and imaging science research and the systems created need to be highly sensi- tive and calibrated on a task-specific basis.

Pano Spiliotis and Lawrence Taplin are using their unique knowledge of the needs of imaging scientists to provide state-of-the-art multispectral imaging systems through their company FluxData Inc., which was founded in 2006 and is currently housed at Venture Creations.

Spiliotis holds a BS in imaging science from RIT and previously worked for several imaging equipment designers, while Taplin holds a master's degree in RIT's color science program and is a former staffer with the Munsell Color Science Lab.

'Our backgrounds and continued closeness to researchers at RIT gave us a unique perspective of the types of systems that the community required," notes Spiliotis, who also holds an MBA from RIT. 'Lawrence and I felt there was an opportunity to develop higher quality, more sensitive sensors that could increase the possible applications for multispectral technology."

A Leader in the Field

The company, which was co-founded with Spiliotis' wife, Tracie, an RIT MBA graduate, has become a key supplier of multispectral imaging systems with a host of national and international customers. These include the Department of Defense, NASA, and General Electric.

'We work with our clients to customize multispectral cameras and spectroradiometers, which measure illumination power, for use in medical imaging, remote sensing, and satellite imaging," Taplin says. 'Our systems can capture three to nine spectral bands simultaneously and 30 frames per second."

FluxData earned major notice in 2011 when it collaborated with NASA and the University of North Dakota to develop and install the International Space Station Agricultural Camera. It is being used to study dynamic Earth processes around the world, including melting glaciers, ecosystem responses to seasonal changes, and the development of natural disasters.

'The Space Station project was particularly exciting because it gave us a chance to modify our technology for an unusual environment, while also allowing us to contribute to an important scientific project that will have major benefits for society," Spiliotis adds.