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Turning university research into commercial products

Five Ohio State teams complete I-Corps@Ohio program

Five faculty-led teams from The Ohio State University are one step closer to possibly commercializing the research they developed here on campus.

The teams successfully completed the 2019 I-Corps@Ohio program. The eight-week program aims to help selected faculty and student teams to determine if their intellectual property – such as a new technology – could be the basis of a startup company.

The Ohio State teams are developing technology ranging from a nasal aid that will help some people with breathing problems to software that will optimize maintenance schedules for industrial equipment.

In all, 13 teams from Ohio research universities and organizations participated in this year’s program, after being selected earlier this year in a competitive process. They shared their final business concept videos and presentations at an event July 11 at the Blackwell Inn.

I-Corps@Ohio, an initiative of the Ohio Department of Higher Education, is a statewide program that helps faculty and graduate students from Ohio universities and colleges determine the market potential of their technologies and assists with the launch of startup companies.

“Our goal is to change the mindset of university researchers and students so that they begin to see the value of their research in terms of commercial opportunities,” said Norman Chagnon, program director of I-Corps@Ohio.

“For the people of Ohio, this can translate into growth and economic development all across the state.”

Participants from Ohio State agreed that the program did indeed change their mindset.

“Going through the I-Corps process forced us to think about a lot of issues that we don’t normally think about as researchers,” said Kai Zhao, associate professor of otolaryngology and principal investigator for the “Breathe Better” team working on the nasal aid.

The aid helps redirect airflow in the nose, which improves breathing sensation for some people with nasal airway problems.

As part of the I-Corps@Ohio process, each team is required to interview potential customers, business partners, funders and others who can help them evaluate and refine their business plan.

“It gave us a lot of perspective on what we should focus on,” said Kanghyun Kim, a graduate student at Ohio State and member of the Breathe Better team.

“One thing we learned is that we need to collect more data about the effectiveness of our product.”

The I-Corps@Ohio process helps researchers get out of their “academic bubble,” said Mrinal Kumar, associate professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering and principal investigator for the “Point Prognostics” team. Their group is the one trying to commercialize software to help companies maintain their equipment.

The software is designed to optimize maintenance schedules for equipment, which is intended to reduce costs by preventing unexpected shutdowns and premature repair.

“As researchers, we are often too focused on solving problems at the ‘fundamental level’ and do not necessarily look at the other side - whether this might actually be something that people or companies can use,” Kumar said.

Most of the teams that finished I-Corps@Ohio will continue the process they began in the program before deciding whether to create a startup company or otherwise license their products.

The other three Ohio State teams in the 2019 program were:

“AAV Tx,” with principal investigator Lei Cao, associate professor of cancer biology and genetics. This team has developed a gene therapy technique that shows promise in helping treat people with Prader-Willi Syndrome.

“Microorganisms and Natural Products at OSU,” with principal investigator Christopher Taylor, associate professor of plant pathology. The team is developing an entity that can act as a matchmaker for academic-industry collaborations involving the use of microorganisms and other natural products.

“Neovascular Therapeutics,” with principal investigator Zhiwei Hu, associate professor of surgical oncology. The team has developed an immunotherapy treatment that uses a patient’s own immune cells to create a high-efficacy, targeted therapy for advanced stage triple-negative breast cancer.