KNOXVILLE – Responding to the challenge from national and state leaders to increase and encourage more innovation, the University of Tennessee helped establish nine startup companies based on technology developed by UT faculty over the last fiscal year, more than doubling the total from a year ago.
The companies licensed technology from the University through the UT Research Foundation (UTRF), the not-for-profit organization responsible for commercializing and licensing technology discovered by faculty across the University of Tennessee System. Nine high-tech companies were created in the fiscal year ending June 30 while four were started in FY11.
From 1999 to 2011, UTRF spun out a total of 32 companies based on UT intellectual property, averaging two to four companies a year for the past five years. Of those companies, 15 are still in business and four companies were acquired. These 19 companies illustrate a favorable comparison to statistics from the Kauffman Foundation showing fewer than 50 percent of startups survive five years.
The increase is the result of more aggressive and ambitious goals set for UTRF.
“Part of the mission of the University of Tennessee is to help drive the economic development of our state. By bringing more technology to the marketplace, the University is answering the charge from Gov. Bill Haslam and President Obama to reward innovation and entrepreneurship while helping create new high-quality jobs in high-tech fields,” UT System President Joe DiPietro said.
“Six of the nine new companies are related to innovations in healthcare, and their products will further help our state by improving surgical procedures, prevention, rehabilitation and overall quality of life of our citizens,” said David Millhorn, UT executive vice president and vice president for research and economic development.
UTRF works with faculty in Knoxville, Chattanooga and Martin; the Health Science Center based in Memphis and the statewide Institute of Agriculture. UTRF helps faculty and the University protect inventions and navigate the process of transferring ideas to industry through licensing agreements. In the right situation and often after many years of research and development, UTRF may encourage a researcher to start a new company to commercialize the technology.
In addition to nine new startup licenses being executed, UTRF received 141 new invention disclosures in 2012, which is a record high, up from 87 in 2011. An invention disclosure is a confidential document that a university inventor submits to UTRF that provides a comprehensive description of an invention.
“Technology commercialization is very challenging, and it’s hard to predict what is going to stick, but the more things we can review and try, the better our results will be overall,” Millhorn said. “An increased number of inventions will result in an increased number of opportunities to commercialize.”
Among the companies spun out over the past 15 years, the most successful include Memphis-based GTx, a pharmaceutical company focused on developing small molecules that modulate the effects of estrogens and androgens. GTx, co-founded in 1997 by UTHSC professor of urology Mitch Steiner, employs more than 100 people in high-paying jobs and has raised more than $300 million in venture capital to fund its operations.
Knoxville-based NuSirt Sciences Inc., founded in 2007 by UT Knoxville Professor Emeritus of Nutrition Michael Zemel, sells products to reduce metabolic health risks. The company recently released a weight-loss supplement that is activated through physical exercise. NuSirt received early mentorship from Tech 2020, a Knoxville-based company that helps accelerate the development of high-growth companies. NuSirt currently has eight people on its payroll, but that number is expected to increase as new products are released.
The nine new business startups facilitated by UTRF in the fiscal year ended June 30, 2012 are:
- Entac Inc. – a Memphis firm developing a medical device to monitor and predict post-operative ileus after abdominal surgery.
- Genera Energy Inc. – a Vonore firm specializing in integrated biomass supply chain solutions. Genera Energy Inc. was spun out of Genera Energy LLC, a wholly-owned subsidiary of UTRF.
- HandMinder Inc. – a Memphis startup developing a portable medical rehabilitation device to recover finger/hand function in stroke patients.
- Infusense Inc. – a Memphis firm developing an automated platform for administration of the surgical anesthetic propofol.
- Nanophthalmics Inc. – a Memphis firm focused on developing surgical tools that incorporate micro-fabricated materials to improve performance.
- Raphael Biotech Inc. – a Memphis company developing new drugs in oncology.
- SimCenter Enterprises Inc. – a Chattanooga-based company focused on computational modeling and engineering.
- Skimtek Inc. – a Knoxville company creating sediment basin dewatering systems.
- Solex – a Knoxville company looking to utilize peptide imaging agents to assist physicians in detecting amyloidosis.
For more information about UTRF, visit http://utrf.tennessee.edu.