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Categories:  Research

UIC startups highlight importance of university research

Sivalingam Sivananthan

Physics professor Siva Sivananthan founded EPIR Technologies using research on technology that transforms light into electricity. Photo: Roberta Dupuis-Devlin/UIC Photo Services

Seven startups that sprang from UIC research are included in a nationwide list featured in a report by the Science Coalition, a group representing the top 55 U.S. universities in research activity.

Of 100 companies in the report, seven are the offspring of research at UIC and two are from the Urbana-Champaign campus.

The group asked its member institutions to identify companies that started with federally funded research on their campuses.

The report, “Sparking Economic Growth 2.0: Companies Created from Federally Funded Research, Fueling American Innovation and Economic Growth,” was created to show the benefits that flow from basic scientific research and the dangers of a growing disinvestment in science.

Federal funding for research and development has been on a downward trend for the past decade, with 2013 funding levels at historic lows. Sequestration, which began last March and is set to run through 2021, will wring an additional $95 billion from federal R&D budgets over this period, the coalition says.

“Universities have always welcomed and nurtured innovation. Federal investment in basic research pays dividends every day through the creation of new ways of doing things, new products, new companies and new jobs,” said Chancellor Paula Allen-Meares.

UIC ranks 52nd in federal research dollars among U.S. universities, with $249 million in 2011.

The Sparking Economic Growth 2.0 companies originating from research at UIC are:

• Cell Biologics, founded in 2011, which offers genetically modified and normal mouse cell lines for use in research.

• Cell Habitats Inc., founded in 2005, a biomedical device company developing a microdevice for the natural repair and regeneration of damaged tissue. Its first application will be to restore normal cardiac function after a heart attack.

• EPIR Technologies, founded 1998, which developed basic applications at the heart of night-vision technology and is now applying that technology to next-generation solar panels.

• Immersive Touch, founded 2005, allows surgeons to develop their skills through simulation-based surgery. A library of virtual brains is used to train neurosurgeons in UIC’s Clinical Performance Center.

• Mobitrac, Inc., founded 2001, uses software for the efficient management of vehicle fleets.

• OrthoAccel Technologies Inc., founded in 2007, offers medical devices for improved dental care and orthodontic treatment.

• TeleroGenics, founded in 2007, is developing pharmaceutical treatments for auto-immune disease.

Earlier this year, Allen-Meares created a $10 million fund to move technologies devised by faculty, students or staff from research to commercial use.

The Chancellor’s Innovation Fund will make grants totaling $2 million a year for five years. About half the funding will finance proof-of-concept grants of up to $75,000 for projects just emerging from basic research. The other half will provide equity funding for start-ups closer to commercialization.

In August, Allen-Meares was one of 164 university leaders who signed a letter calling on President Obama and Congress to address an “innovation deficit” — a widening gap between U.S. investment in research and higher education and the investment being made by countries such as China and South Korea. The letter reminded elected leaders that U.S. economic growth since World War II has been driven by technological innovation, overwhelmingly derived from federally funded scientific research.

As the Sparking Economic Growth 2.0 report points out, private industry conducts relatively little basic research today – about 20 percent. Research universities produce the “seed corn” essential to U.S. industry innovation and its ability to compete.