Award brings project from concept to market

HOUGHTON — After a proposal competition, a Michigan Tech program is set to award a research project with funding to bring the project to market.

Senior members of the Michigan Translational Research and Commercialization (MTRAC) program met Thursday to hear proposals from three finalists for assistance in bringing the results of research to market.

Sixteen applicants from six universities around the state submitted letters of intent, and from those five were invited to submit full proposals. From those five proposals, three were invited to give oral presentations.

The purpose of the application process is “demonstrating that (applicants) are ready to make effective paths towards commercialization,” according to John Diebel, the MTRAC Program Director at Michigan Technological University. “Oftentimes what we see is either that the technology is a long way from where it could be commercially evaluated or that there may be an issue, or we perceive a weakness in the team that needs to be addressed before the project can proceed,” said Diebel.

Those programs selected by the MTRAC committee receive funding, as well as guidance from the MTRAC oversite committee.

“The people who were making the decisions today come from industry and understand what it takes to meet a commercial need out there,” said Diebel.

“We introduce the teams to other resources in the entrepreneurial community to be able to continue down this path of commercialization,” said Denise Graves, university relations director for entrepreneurial innovation at the Michigan Economic Development Corporation. “We provide them with feedback and keep them moving along as much as we can.”

This support offers what Diebel calls “a bridge over the valley of death,” which he says separates the research portion of a project from entry to the market. While research is often funded by university, foundation, or government grants, resources for taking a project past that stage are scarce.

The three final proposals were:

• A solid-state battery designed to fix some of the shortcomings of current lithium-ion technology.

• A nanosensor capable of detecting low levels of gasses.

• A proposal for a technology to make high-impact polymers like those used in phone cases out of plant oils rather than by-products of fossil fuel production.

While MTRAC has made a decision on which applicant project will receive continued support, that information is not being released at this time.

The proposal process at Michigan Tech’s MTRAC hub, which focuses in advanced materials, will begin in late December or early January.

Michigan State University, University of Michigan, Wayne State and the University of Michigan Medical School also have MTRAC hubs.

Applications can be submitted by all universities, medical centers and nonprofit research centers.

The MTRAC program is supported by the Michigan Strategic Fund with program administration by the Michigan Economic Development Corporation Entrepreneurship & Innovation initiative which establishes Michigan as the place to create and grow a business by providing high-tech start-up companies with access to a variety of critical resources, such as funding and expert counsel, from ideation to maturation.