Bridging the Gap: U-Idaho Researchers Receive HERC Funding for Innovation

Friday, March 11 2011


MOSCOW, Idaho – One of the greatest perils in technology transfer is the Valley of Death – the place where innovative ideas and research go to die before they have the chance to arrive in the marketplace.

One thing in particular makes a difference – gap funding. A major challenge with regards to the commercialization of university technology is the funding void between early stage research and a technology that is ready for commercialization. Gap funds are typically used to develop prototypes, proof-of-concept testing and field trials. The goal of gap funding is to lower the barrier to industrial licensing or investment funding of start-up companies.

“Many great ideas die without gap funding,” says Gene Merrell, University of Idaho associate vice president for economic development.

Last fall, the Idaho State Board of Education Higher Education Research Council (HERC) announced approximately $350,000 available statewide for such gap funding. HERC believes that to fully realize the potential of the technical advances of the universities, to meet the expectations of stakeholders, and to create opportunities for retaining students within Idaho, an incubation fund needed to be established from which technologies that meet specific criteria will be incubated to support technology transfer and commercialization. These will be investments in selected technologies with expectations that the licensing of the technologies will provide benefits to the universities and stimulate economic development.

The University of Idaho submitted nine funding proposals, while Boise State University and Idaho State University both sent five. The University of Idaho recently learned that five of its projects were funded out of a total of seven awards. .

“It’s something to brag about,” said Merrell. “It shows that people like the variety of research that is happening at the University of Idaho.”

The five diverse research projects that received funding include:

• Kerry Huber’s research, entitled "Generation of Potato-Based Resistant Starch (RS) Ingredients for Testing within Commercial Product Prototypes by an Industrial Partner," addresses a need to develop potato resistant starch food ingredients that act as dietary fiber and help lower the glycemic index response to food. The new modified potato starch will allow potato growers and processors to gain entry into growing market areas that are currently inaccessible. Additionally, people that have problems with diabetes, allergies to corn or wheat products, or simply want more potato food choices will have access to new foods that contain digestive health benefits. Huber is an associate professor of food science in the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences

• Ken Cain's research, entitled "Commercializing Specific Probiotic Bacterial Strains as Direct Fed Microbials (DFMs) to Improve Fish Health and Reduce Disease Related Mortality at Aquaculture Facilities," addresses reducing the incidence of Coldwater disease in salmonids. Coldwater disease is regarded as the No. 1 problem for Idaho’s trout industry, resulting in $9-10 million annual losses and up to a 30 percent reduction in yield. Cain is an associate professor of fisheries resources in the College of Natural Resources.

• David McIIroy's and Gustavo Arrizabalaga’s research, entitled "Nanospring Coatings for the Promotion of Bone Growth on Prostheses," creates metal coated nanosprings that enhance the growth of normal bone cells and deposition of bone into the pores created by the nanosprings, which increases integration of bone cells around and within orthopedic implants. This is expected to decrease the failure rate of these devices. U.S. orthopedic procedures cost $25 to $30 billion dollars annually and are projected to increase by an overall annual growth rate of 15 percent. The most common cause of orthopedic implant failure is a loosening of the bone-implant interface that this technology addresses. McIlroy is a professor of physics in the College of Science and Arrizabalaga is and associate professor in biological sciences in the College of Science..

• Steve Love's research, entitled "Enhancing Propagation Capability to Accelerate the Commercialization of Domesticated Native Plants," creates a unique and valuable pool of domesticated native plant materials for use in the nursery and landscape industry. These native plant materials are designed to fill emerging market needs driven by increased public desire for environmental stewardship and water conservation. Love identified nearly 500 different types of native plants, which translates to a potential $10 million dollar market over the next five years. Love is an Extension professor of horticulture and superintendent of the Aberdeen Research and Extension Center,

• Erik Coat’s and Armando McDonald’s research, entitled "Constructing a Pilot-scale Bioplastic Production Facility," ferments dairy wastes to produce polyhydroxyalkanoate (PHA). PHA is essentially a biodegradable plastic that is synthesized by bacteria. In line with an increase in sustainability practices and waste recycling, is an increase in the use PHA-based plastics. The PHA market is expected to grow from 2.7 kt in 2007 to 72.7 kt by 2013. Erik Coats is an assistant professor of civil engineering in the College of Engineering and McDonald is a professor of forest products in the College of Natural Resources.

“This funding helps move technology forward,” said Merrell. “It makes people more interested and demonstrates the value of investing in the university.”

With another HERC submission period likely to be sometime in April, Merrell is hoping more faculty will submit proposals for the next round.

“Professors thinking about submitting a proposal need to work with the Office of Technology Transfer,” said Karen Stevenson a licensing associate in OTT. “We partner with the professor to assess the market potential of the technology and its path to commercialization.”

“We want to impact the people and industries of the state,” said Merrell.
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About the University of Idaho
Founded in 1889, the University of Idaho is the state’s land-grant institution and its principal graduate education and research university, bringing insight and innovation to the state, the nation and the world. University researchers attract nearly $100 million in research grants and contracts each year. The University of Idaho is classified by the prestigious Carnegie Foundation as high research activity. The student population of 12,000 includes first-generation college students and ethnically diverse scholars, who select from more than 130 degree options in the colleges of Agricultural and Life Sciences; Art and Architecture; Business and Economics; Education; Engineering; Law; Letters, Arts and Social Sciences; Natural Resources; and Science. The university also is charged with the statewide mission for medical education through the WWAMI program. The university combines the strength of a large university with the intimacy of small learning communities and focuses on helping students to succeed and become leaders. It is home to the Vandals, and competes in the Western Athletic Conference. For more information, visit www.uidaho.edu.