Four faculty-led innovation teams have been selected to participate in the fourth cohort of the University of Maine’s Maine Innovation Research and Technology Accelerator program (MIRTA).
MIRTA assists UMaine researchers in advancing public and commercial application of their discoveries. The teams dedicate 20 hours a week for 16 weeks to market research, intellectual property analysis and business model development to bring their inventions to market. Business incubation staff from UMaine’s Office of Innovation and Economic Development guide the process, which kicks off with an immersive commercialization boot camp.
The teams, who are eligible for up to $25,000 to support development of commercialization implementation plans, work with an advisory committee of industry and technology experts who provide feedback and advice. Participation in the program ideally leads to establishment of a new business, licensing of products to an existing company, or direct engagement with end users.
Outputs from the 13 teams in the first three MIRTA cohorts include five new startups, six patents filed or issued, and generation of more than $2 million in external funding and prototype sales, with funds designated to support ongoing commercialization.
Companies formed after participation in MIRTA include Neuright, winner of the $25,000 David Shaw prize at the statewide Top Gun accelerator program in 2019, and UNAR Labs, a participant in the initial cohort of the Roux Institute Startup Residency Program.
MIRTA is funded by the University of Maine System Research Reinvestment Fund (RRF) and the Maine Technology Institute. RRF allocates internal grants to advance research projects with public benefit from discovery to commercialization. All projects are tied to Maine businesses or industries critical to the future of the state.
The MIRTA 4.0 teams are:
Andrei Alyokhin, professor of applied entomology in the School of Biology and Ecology, leads the HI-Lucens team of Patrick Erbland, a recent UMaine graduate and research associate at the Alyokhin laboratory, and Matthew Moyet, UMaine alumnus and Ph.D. student at the Alyokhin laboratory. The trio will partner with Ryan Beaumont, principal engineer at RBC Expert Engineering, to develop bioconversion technology that supports production of animal feed from organic waste using black soldier fly larvae. The soldier fly converts food waste into biomass rich in protein and oil that can be dried and processed for use in aquaculture and poultry feed.
Nature Nano Wrap
Professor of Food Science Denise Skonberg is partnering with Suriya Prakaash Lakshmi Balasubramaniam, a Ph.D. candidate in food and nutrition sciences, to develop and commercialize a biodegradable, antioxidant, antimicrobial film made from renewable cellulose nanofibers for use in food packaging. In an effort to combat global plastic pollution, the researchers are developing an eco-friendly moisture-resistant film for packaging and preserving high-fat foods such as cheeses, sausages and nut butters. The pair will use naturally occurring plant compounds to reduce water absorption and add antimicrobial and antioxidant properties to a cellulose nanofibril-based film (CNF).
Jim Weber, an associate professor of animal and veterinary sciences in UMaine’s School of Food and Agriculture, will work with senior undergraduate students Raleigh Toussaint (pre-veterinary sciences) and David Flewelling (biological engineering), UMaine entrepreneur-in-residence John Branscombe Jr. and Brian McLaughlin, CEO and founder of Amplify Additive, to explore the commercialization potential of medical-grade titanium foam produced through additive manufacturing. The patented technology, which was developed at UMaine, has the potential to improve the attachment strength and reduce infection rates associated with medical, veterinary and agricultural implants. Branscombe will provide project management support, while Scarborough-based Amplify Additive will provide design assistance and produce implant prototypes for testing and commercialization. McLaughlin is seeking collaborations with UMaine researchers for Maine Technology Institute (MTI) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) grant proposals that will potentially create new jobs in medical device manufacturing in Maine.
A team from the College of Education and Human Development is developing a mathematical manipulative that uses sunlight to model multiplication as a continuous growth operation. Faculty lead Justin Dimmel, an assistant professor of mathematics education and instructional technology, is collaborating with Eric Pandiscio, an associate professor of mathematics education, senior biology student Emma Reedman (pre-med with minors in psychology and interdisciplinary studies), and external partner Mitch Stone to refine a handheld version of the device for use in K–12 math classes, and a larger version to be installed in public gathering spaces such as parks and playgrounds. Stone is the director of parks and recreation and the deputy director of community development for Orono. As a physical representation for the multiplication of fractions, the SunRule allows K–12 students to use sunlight to explore fundamental mathematical concepts.