NUtech Ventures hosted its Innovator Celebration on Nov. 1. Held as part of Nebraska Research Days, the annual event featured this year’s Innovator Awards.
The awards recognize university personnel and companies who are developing and commercializing cutting-edge research.
Brad Roth, NUtech executive director, opened the awards ceremony, followed by comments from Nebraska Chancellor Ronnie Green.
Green acknowledged the importance of university commercialization, especially as it relates to the N2025 strategic plan. The strategic plan includes goals to increase the number of patents, copyrights, company licenses and research-based startup companies at Nebraska. During the past fiscal year, NUtech continued to complete a significant number of license agreements.
“These awards reflect our university’s commitment to advancing innovation and making it available for broader impact, both here in Nebraska and around the world,” said Green. “Research commercialization is only possible through many partnerships, both on and off campus, all working together to advance new technology into widespread use.”
As the university’s technology commercialization affiliate, NUtech Ventures protects, markets and licenses the university’s intellectual property to improve quality of life and promote economic development. The organization also promotes entrepreneurship through programming and sponsored events.
Prem S. Paul Innovator of the Year
The Prem S. Paul Innovator of the Year was awarded to Ron Faller, director and research professor of the Midwest Roadside Safety Facility. It recognizes an individual who exemplifies innovation and entrepreneurship by advancing novel research into significant commercial use.
The Midwest Roadside Safety Facility conducts research related to highway design and safety. Faller and his team work closely with public transportation officials and companies to develop and test innovative new technologies in highway safety.
Breakthrough Innovation of the Year
The Breakthrough Innovation of the Year award went to Nebraska’s Midwest Roadside Safety Facility team and TrafFix Devices, Inc. The award recognizes a technology developed in the past year that will likely have a profound impact on industry, business or a field of study.
The Delta crash cushion, a new roadside safety device, is the result of a six-year partnership between Nebraska researchers and engineers at TrafFix Devices, Inc. Now commercially available, the final product represents top-notch Nebraska research paired with a global business strategy.
Emerging Innovator of the Year
Eric Markvicka, assistant professor of mechanical and materials engineering, received the Emerging Innovator of the Year. It recognizes an individual, often a junior faculty member, for recent innovation contributions.
Markvicka’s research, positioned at the intersection of computer and materials science, aims to transform how materials interact with the human body and the external environment. His systems have applications for wearable biosensors, soft robotics and multifunctional materials.
Creative Work of the Year
The Creative Work of the Year went to Megan Hopkins, project director of the Nebraska Collegiate Prevention Alliance. The award recognizes an individual who has developed a creative innovation, which is typically protected under copyright.
Hopkins has co-developed an online program that addresses substance abuse among college students. According to program data, participating students receive fewer alcohol sanctions and are more likely to remain enrolled by junior year. The program is being used by 18 institutions of higher education in Nebraska and has also been licensed to universities and colleges in Missouri.
Startup Company of the Year
TurfGrade was named the Startup Company of the Year. The award recognizes a startup company — founded by Nebraska faculty, staff or students — that has made significant progress in becoming a sustainable business.
TurfGrade is led by Bill Kreuser, formerly a Nebraska agronomist. The company is using a software platform to make turfgrass management simpler and more sustainable. Among other features, the platform provides guidance for applying fertilizer and plant growth regulators.
Outstanding Graduate Student of the Year
Jackson Stansell, a graduate student in biological systems engineering, was named Outstanding Graduate Student of the Year. The designation goes to a student who has developed a new innovation and is making progress toward commercialization.
Stansell has co-developed a management system for so-called fertigation, or the application of fertilizer through an irrigation system. He has worked with NUtech to patent the system. In spring 2021, Stansell joined NUtech’s entrepreneurship program to assess the system’s commercial potential by conducting customer interviews.