NUtech Ventures hosted its Innovator Celebration on Nov. 2. Held as part of Nebraska Research Days, the annual event included two virtual events: a keynote presentation from leaders at the United States Patent and Trademark Office; and an awards ceremony announcing the 2020 Innovator Awards.
The awards recognize university personnel and companies who are developing and commercializing cutting-edge research.
Bob Wilhelm, vice chancellor of research and economic development, opened the awards ceremony, followed by Chancellor Ronnie Green and Brad Roth, NUtech executive director.
“We’re all navigating our work in new ways during this global pandemic, and Nebraska researchers show real grit in their effort to move creative activities forward,” said Green, who also serves on NUtech’s board of directors. “This is a moment to acknowledge the glory of these innovative research and commercialization accomplishments.”
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 award went to George Graef, professor of agronomy and horticulture. The award recognizes an individual who exemplifies innovation and entrepreneurship by advancing novel research into significant commercial use.
Graef is a world-class soybean breeder who has developed conventional varieties, glyphosate-tolerant varieties, LL55-tolerant varieties and food grade varieties, used to make tofu. He works closely with academic and industry collaborators.
Breakthrough Innovation of the Year
The Breakthrough Innovation of the Year award went to Bob Hutkins, professor of food science and technology. 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.
Hutkins is a renowned scientist in probiotics and prebiotics, and has developed several probiotic strains that show a positive effect on the human microbiome. He is a co-founder of faculty startup company Synbiotic Health, which is working to commercialize synbiotics — combinations of probiotics and prebiotics — for food, beverage and nutraceutical products.
Emerging Innovator of the Year
The Emerging Innovator of the Year award went to Shudipto Dishari, assistant professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering. The award recognizes an individual, often a junior faculty member, for recent innovation contributions.
Dishari’s research focuses on designing ion-conducting and light-harvesting polymers, exploring the nanoscale phenomena within polymeric thin films and membranes. Her work could help reduce the cost and improve the energy efficiency of hydrogen-based fuel cells. Other potential applications include energy conversion and storage device systems, such as lithium batteries, semi-conductors and biochemical systems.
Creative Work of the Year
The Creative Work of the Year award went to James Le Sueur, Samuel Clark Waugh Distinguished Professor of International Relations and chair of the Department of History. The award recognizes an individual who has developed a creative innovation, such as a film, which is typically protected under copyright.
Le Sueur is the co-producer and director of the documentary film, “The Art of Dissent,” which explores the role of artistic activism during Czechoslovakia’s communist takeover and nonviolent transition from communist power. The film premiered in August 2020 at the Rhode Island International Film Festival, where it won the Social Spotlight Award, which recognizes films that are bringing awareness to critical and underreported issues.
Startup Company of the Year
The Startup Company of the Year award went to Agricultural Flaming Innovations. The award recognizes a startup company — founded by University of Nebraska–Lincoln faculty, staff or students — that has made significant progress in becoming a sustainable business.
Agricultural Flaming Innovations is founded by George Gogos, professor of mechanical and materials engineering; Stevan Knezevic, professor of agronomy and horticulture; and Chris Bruening, who received his doctorate in mechanical and materials engineering from UNL. The team developed equipment that uses heat for certified organic weed control. When mounted to a tractor, it directs propane-fueled flames at weeds, which wilt and die — leaving crops unaffected.
Commercialization Partner of the Year
The Commercialization Partner of the Year award went to Omni-Threat Structures. The award recognizes a company that has licensed and developed a university technology, bringing it to market as a product or service.
Omni-Threat Structures builds disaster-resistant structures. The company has licensed modified concrete formulations and methods that provide shielding from high level electromagnetic pulse energy. The technology protects sensitive electronics from EMP, which can cripple power grids, data centers and other critical infrastructure.