Tammi Thomas

Wayne Swann, director of Morgan State's OTT, left; Arti Santhanam, executive director of MII; and Birol Ozturk, a recipient of MII's Phase I funding.

Morgan State University (Morgan State) is one of five institutions collaborating with TEDCO as part of the Maryland Innovation Initiative (MII) – a technology transfer program established in 2012 to grow and accelerate promising technologies through venture creation.

In 2017, Morgan State launched the Office of Technology and Intellectual Property (OTT). After just five years, the program is thriving. In fact, every year, Morgan State’s OTT develops 30 new inventions; additionally, in the last four years, they have seen their rate of research and development expenditures double to $27 million.

“We have built a strong ecosystem and are seeing a new innovation come through our office every 12 days,” explains Wayne Swann, director of Morgan State’s OTT. The ecosystem at Morgan State is reinforced by MII’s site miners who support the university’s innovators and researchers, allowing for the exploration into how their ideas can solve a current obstacle or challenge, while also helping to consider how these solutions can be commercialized into the market.

“Government funding and other traditional research funding focuses on basic research and isn’t typically available for the commercialization of innovations,” Swann explains. “Thankfully, MII provides the funding that helps move innovations out of the lab and into the hands of people who can use it. With MII’s support, our researchers learn how to transition early-stage innovations along the pathway to commercialization.”

“There are two phases to MII funding,” explains Arti Santhanam, Ph.D., executive director of MII. “The first phase – technology assessment – allows for awards up to $115,000. During the second phase, we see projects that are ready for company formation and commercial launch; here we can provide companies with awards up to $300,000. Since its creation, MII has seen a lot of success. We have awarded $47.5 million to various innovators and entrepreneurs and have seen the attraction of nearly $693 million in follow-on funding.”

Tool with potential to disrupt the market

A recent recipient of MII’s Phase I funding is Birol Ozturk, Ph.D., associate professor of physics at Morgan State. This funding will support Ozturk’s innovative idea, manufacturing nanoscale electrodes for high-resolution microscopy.

Although microscale electrodes are currently on the market, nanoscale is new. A nanoscale electrode would support labs and other industries, allowing them to collect data at a much smaller scale that cannot be gathered with existing microscale electrodes. Additionally, Ozturk’s tool will use fewer precious metals, allowing for more cost-efficient manufacturing by insulating gold or platinum nanowires in glass to form a well-defined tip.

“MII funding is helping us to demonstrate the potential for this tool, and various industries could benefit from it. We’ve found that this tool can help pharmaceutical labs study individual cell response to medicines or even allow corrosion researchers to test efficiency of products that block corrosion, a common problem for military planes and vehicles,” states Ozturk.

This was Ozturk’s first attempt at commercialization. He notes about his experience that “TEDCO provides many resources. They are willing to answer questions and provide check-ins to ensure that you are able to meet the deadlines. I had never commercialized a product, but Morgan State has a strong tech transfer officer that connected me with TEDCO, helped me with the application, and provides training to better understand the commercialization process.”

Even though the university collaborates with MII, Morgan State has found that researchers and innovators are oftentimes not ready to apply for the funding MII provides. Because of this, the university has created the Innovation Works Initiative, a program that helps to create more success for innovators looking to bring their ideas to market.

Promising candidates for commercialization

Through this program, Morgan State can better identify projects with potential for commercialization, while providing innovators with programming and support. Additionally, through the I-GAP grants the program provides, innovators can receive pre-MII funding, allowing ideas and innovations to be more fully developed and supporting the later MII proposals.

Morgan State has awarded more than 80 I-GAP grants to faculty and staff to close the gap between the laboratory and the marketplace. Additionally, Morgan State produces invention disclosures (written to communicate a novel idea), new patent applications and other key innovation outputs, such as current U.S. patents and new start-up companies at a rate significantly higher than the state and national averages per $10 million in research expenditures.

After receiving a Carnegie Doctoral Research University R2 classification in 2018, Morgan State focused on R1. Morgan State’s significant growth, including increased research funding, innovation and tech commercialization through programs like the Maryland Innovation Initiative, promise to transform the university and our region.

TEDCO, the Maryland Technology Development Corporation, enhances economic empowerment growth through the fostering of an inclusive entrepreneurial innovation ecosystem. TEDCO identifies, invests in and helps grow technology and life science-based companies in Maryland. Learn more at tedcomd.com.

Tammi Thomas is the chief marketing and communications officer at TEDCO.

Source: Washington Business Journal