Cutting-edge innovation, products of tomorrow and homegrown Nebraska businesses came together to be celebrated during NUtech Ventures’ annual Innovator Celebration.
Held Nov. 6, the event highlights the accomplishments of University of Nebraska–Lincoln faculty, staff, students and partner companies developing and commercializing cutting-edge research. Attended by more than 175, the event kicked off the university’s annual Research Days
“We have an incredibly broad range of research and creative activity at Nebraska that can be translated into products and services by existing and startup companies that create new jobs, grow our economy, and improve quality of life,” said Brad Roth, executive director of NUtech Ventures. “NUtech Ventures is here to serve the campus as a proud partner in this work.”
During fiscal year 2023, Husker innovators shared 105 new inventions with NUtech Ventures for evaluation. Additionally, 31 patents were issued to Nebraska researchers this year, including 24 U.S.-issued patents. NUtech executed 37 licensing agreements for the commercialization of work produced at UNL, and NUtech’s licensing revenue totaled 5.7 million dollars in fiscal year 2023 — just under $4.5 million was distributed to inventors, colleges, and the campus.
“Our campus innovators are doing exceptional work for the good of Nebraska and the world, said Sherri Jones, interim vice chancellor for the Office of Research and Economic Development. “We encourage you to take advantage of the university’s resources, including ORED’s Industry Relations group, NUtech Ventures, and Nebraska Innovation Campus. 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.”
Cheryl Horst, associate director and intellectual property counsel of NUtech Ventures, added that for the sixth year in a row, the University of Nebraska system has been ranked in the top 100 universities in the world for issued U.S. patents. Nebraska ranked number 78 for calendar year 2022, with 45 issued U.S. Patents, 25 of which included UNL inventors.
Brittany Duncan, Ross McCollum Associate Professor in the School of Computing and co-director of the NIMBUS Lab, was selected as this year’s Emerging Innovator award winner. Duncan was recognized for the development and novel applications of drone and robotic technologies to solve real-world problems.
The Global Yield Gap Atlas won the Creative Work award, which recognizes a creative work or software innovation. The atlas is an online platform that estimates water productivity, crop nutrient requirements and yield gaps UNL and Wageningen University in the Netherlands are the project’s coordinating partners. Patricio Grassini, Kenneth Cassman (emeritus professor) and Haishun Yang are key players on the UNL team.
Marc Maguire, associate professor in the Durham School of Architectural Engineering and Construction, received the Breakthrough Innovation award. The award recognizes a technology developed recently that likely will have a profound effect on industry, business or a field of study. Maguire developed innovative hemp-based composite masonry blocks. This plant-based mixture is environmentally friendly and sustainable and helps meet the world’s construction demands, while offering an alternative crop for Nebraska growers.
The Startup Company Award recognizes a UNL faculty, staff or student-founded startup company that has licensed university technology and is making significant strides of growth and technology development toward becoming a sustainable business. This year, the award was presented to Thyreos Inc., co-founded by UNL’s Gary Pickard, Northwestern University’s Gregory Smith and Tufts University’s Ekaterina Heldwein. Thyreos is developing novel vaccines that protect against a range of neuroinvasive herpes viruses in animals and people.
The Innovation Champion Award, a new award, recognizes a partner and advocate of innovation for NUtech Ventures, UNL inventors, and the greater campus community and local ecosystem. This inaugural award was presented to Invest Nebraska. Several thriving campus startups have been supported by Invest Nebraska’s funding options, including Drone Amplified and Sentinel Fertigation. A key Invest Nebraska program offering is The Combine Incubator, a statewide initiative supporting high-growth startups in food and agriculture.
The final award of the afternoon was the 2023 Prem S. Paul Innovator of the Year award. This award recognizes an individual who exemplifies innovation and entrepreneurship by advancing novel research toward significant commercial utilization and is named for the late chancellor for research and economic development. This year’s recipient is Thomas Clemente.
Clemente is the Eugene W. Price Distinguished Professor of Biotechnology in the Department of Agronomy and Horticulture and director of the state-of-the art Plant Transformation Core Research facility at the Center for Plant Science Innovation. His research includes developing tools for functional genomics and implementing genetic engineering for introduction of novel biotic and abiotic traits in the major commodity crops that benefit society. One of his most substantive contributions involved the genetic engineering of soybean plants with a dicamba-tolerant gene in collaboration with Donald Weeks, emeritus professor of biochemistry.