While 2020 was a year of persistent challenges and unexpected transitions, it also displayed the wide-ranging impact of Nebraska innovation.
NUtech Ventures worked with faculty across campus to help transfer research and creative activity to the marketplace, from fuel cell technology to a documentary film. Here are some of the key stories that shaped technology transfer at Nebraska.
Nebraska chemist David Hage helped design a COVID-19 antibody test in partnership with the company ni2o Inc., using previously patented Nebraska research to develop a faster test. NUtech Ventures also worked with sociologist Bilal Khan, who leveraged a software application to meet the needs of contact tracing. The Bluetooth-based app, originally developed for a sociology research project, informs individuals who were exposed to COVID-19 at a public place.
In 2020, university startup companies continued commercializing technology to improve organic weed control, surface de-icing, pediatric cancer detection and gut health. Teams licensed the university’s intellectual property from NUtech Ventures before further developing it for commercial use.
Lights, camera, copyright
NUtech Ventures took on a new role as the executive producer of a university documentary film, “The Art of Dissent.” NUtech owns the rights to the film’s intellectual property and helped navigate legal agreements related to archival footage and music from foreign countries. Directed by Nebraska historian James Le Sueur, the film explores the role of artistic activism during Czechoslovakia’s communist takeover and nonviolent transition. To date, the film has been accepted into seven film festivals and received three awards.
Nebraska engineer Shudipto Dishari is developing polymers to reduce the cost and improve the energy efficiency of hydrogen-based fuel cells, which are used to fuel electric cars. These cars are currently more expensive than traditional combustion engines, which has prevented widespread adoption. Dishari is working with NUtech Ventures, which has filed a patent application for the technology.
Over the course of his 34-year career at Nebraska, P. Stephen Baenziger has developed key partnerships with private companies, including a licensing agreement with Bayer Crop Science, which funds an endowed professorship, research and education for Nebraska’s small-grains breeding program. George Graef, professor of agronomy and horticulture, also works closely with industry collaborators to commercialize soybean varieties. Graef received NUtech Ventures’ 2020 Innovator of the Year award, which recognizes an individual who is advancing novel research into significant commercial use.
NUtech Ventures co-hosted an online version of its campus entrepreneurship program, Nebraska Introduction to Customer Discovery, collectively training 22 teams in 2020. The program is modeled after the National Science Foundation’s Innovation Corps, in which researchers interview stakeholders to understand their needs and use feedback to guide decisions about a startup company or technology commercialization. Learn more about registering for the spring 2021 program.
Moving up the ‘Top 100’
For the third consecutive year, the University of Nebraska system ranked among the top 100 academic institutions worldwide in earning U.S. patents. The NU system was tied at No. 65, moving up 14 spots from the previous year. Earning patents allows NUtech Ventures to work with faculty, staff and students to bring research to the marketplace. The result is new startup companies, jobs and university-licensed products that aim to grow the economy and improve quality of life.
In November 2020, NUtech Ventures hosted its annual Innovator Celebration, part of Nebraska Research Days, which honors faculty, staff and students who are developing and commercializing cutting-edge technology. The online event included video features for each award winner and a keynote address from the director of the United States Patent and Trademark Office.