NUtech Ventures hosted its 2022 Innovator Celebration on Nov. 14, part of Nebraska Research Days. The annual event featured this year’s Innovator Awards, which recognize university personnel and companies who are developing and commercializing cutting-edge research from Nebraska.
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. NUtech also promotes entrepreneurship through programming and sponsored events.
Brad Roth, NUtech executive director, opened the program, followed by comments from Bob Wilhelm, vice chancellor for research and economic development.
Wilhelm congratulated the patent recipients and award winners, acknowledging their research and commercialization accomplishments. He discussed the continued growth of entrepreneurship activities and resources on campus, including the recent announcement of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s membership in the National Science Foundation’s Great Lakes Innovation Corps Hub. The affiliation will help to build on and expand the university’s entrepreneurship training efforts, access to mentor and funding networks, and more. Involvement with the hub is the natural next step in its entrepreneurship efforts and is especially timely as researchers focus on the university’s seven Grand Challenge areas, which are driving much of the research and creative activity on campus.
“Our successes so far highlight the robust pipeline from research to economic development. To further strengthen this trajectory, we encourage you to take advantage of the university’s resources, including ORED’s Industry Relations group, NUtech Ventures, and Nebraska Innovation Campus,” Wilhelm said. “These groups and facilities help foster public-private partnerships, leading to further innovation and, ultimately, commercialization and impact that will help solve challenges critical to Nebraska and the world. Your work is essential for the strategic vision we’re pursuing at Nebraska.”
Awards were presented in five categories by members of the NUtech Ventures leadership team: Cheryl Horst, associate director and IP counsel; Jeewan Jyot, director of licensing; and Brad Roth, executive director. The celebration also recognized Nebraska inventors named on United States-issued patents in fiscal year 2021-2022.
Prem S. Paul Innovator of the Year
The Prem S. Paul Innovator of the Year was awarded to two faculty this year, Chris Tuan, professor of civil engineering and Lim Nguyen, professor of electrical and computer engineering. This award recognizes individuals who exemplify innovation and entrepreneurship by advancing novel research into significant commercial use.
Tuan and Nguyen have collaborated for more than a decade on new and unique concrete mixtures, methods and applications to solve problems. These solutions range from de-icing concrete to developing a cost-effective concrete that protects electronic equipment from electromagnetic energy. Tuan and Nguyen have also had significant impact on Nebraska students, staff and postdocs.
Breakthrough Innovation of the Year
The Breakthrough Innovation of the Year award went to Greg Bashford, professor of biomedical engineering. This award recognizes a technology developed in the past year that will likely have a profound impact on industry, business or a field of study.
Bashford’s portable transcranial ultrasound technology and device has been developed with collaborators from Lincoln Fire and Rescue. A minimum viable product is currently being tested and, among other possibilities, has potential implications for predicting preclinical Alzheimer’s and for monitoring stroke patients’ responses to interventions.
Emerging Innovator of the Year
The Emerging Innovator of the Year was awarded to Changmou Xu, research associate professor of food science and technology. This award recognizes an individual, often a junior faculty member, for recent innovation contributions.
Xu’s research focuses on developing healthy beverages made from aronia berries. His startup company, A+ Berry, is currently creating a line of juice and wine products that will be launched in the market soon.
Creative Work of the Year
The Creative Work of the Year was awarded to “The Bell Affair,” a documentary film developed by Nebraska scholars Kwakiutl Dreher, associate professor of English; Michael Burton, assistant professor of Textiles, Merchandising and Fashion Design; and William Thomas, professor of history, Angle Chair in the Humanities, and associate dean for research and graduate education in the College of Arts and Sciences. This award recognizes an individual or group who has developed a creative innovation, which is typically protected under copyright.
“The Bell Affair” was directed and filmed remotely, due to travel limitations of the pandemic. These challenges allowed for creative approaches to problem solving to bring the work to fruition. From virtual costume fittings to actors filming themselves, the entire cast and crew contributed uniquely to this project. The result has been the ability to tell the important story of the Bell family: how enslaved people used the court system to gain their freedom.
Startup Company of the Year
The Startup Company of the Year was awarded to Synbiotic Health, founded by Tim Brummels, CEO and president; Andy Benson, professor of food science and technology and director of the Nebraska Food for Health Center; Bob Hutkins, Khem Shahani Distinguished Professor of food science and technology; Tom Burkey, professor of animal science; and former Nebraska faculty member, Jens Walter. This award recognizes a startup company — founded by Nebraska faculty, staff or students — that has made significant progress in becoming a sustainable business.
Synbiotic Health provides industry-changing prebiotic and probiotic food additives to support human health. These products are based on over a decade of university research, with commercial products having been launched in the market this year.