LSU faculty members are closing in on bringing their inventions to market with funds from the university’s LIFT2 grant program
LSU Physics Professor Shane Stadler is among the 22 faculty members at the flagship campus in Baton Rouge that have been awarded a combined $830,000 through the Leverage Innovation and Technology Transfer Fund, or LIFT2, to help bring their inventions to market. Photography courtesy LSU
A new age cooling system that more efficiently powers refrigerators, a data-driven polling analytics program and tools for attaching soft tissue to bone are rarely mentioned in the same breath—or even thought about much by the average person.
But by providing proof-of-concept grants to faculty members for these and many other inventions through its Leverage Innovation for Technology Transfer Fund—better known simply at LIFT2—LSU hopes to bring the ideas to market and increase its research revenue. Twice a year, the LIFT2 Fund provides grants of up to $50,000 on a competitive basis to a select number of faculty members, who can use the money to validate the market potential of their inventions.
Myriad research universities throughout the country tout patents from their professors’ inventions. What makes LSU’s LIFT2 program different, says LSU Office of Innovation & Technology Commercialization Director Andy Maas, is the fact that it’s driven by and for the market economy.
“Universities across the board really haven’t looked at the market-driven component,” Maas says. “If you’re getting patents just for patents’ sake, it’s not really that useful for the community.”
Faculty members receive 40% of the profit from licensing their inventions, while the university collects the royalties—5% of which is funneled back into the LIFT2 Fund. Maas says that will incentivize professors to innovate in areas that can be commercially successful, and incentivize the university to support those endeavors. LSU hopes to “change the culture” in Baton Rouge, he adds, galvanizing the local economy by commercializing innovative technology like other economic powerhouse cities including Dallas or San Francisco.
The university recently began hosting the I-CORPS program, a National Science Foundation crash course in entrepreneurship, which has brought innovators—many of them scientists—to the world of business to give faculty and students an idea of how to navigate the commercial side of bringing their inventions to market. Maas calls the program an effort to “get out of the lab and talk to potential customers before we do more research.”
Since being launched in 2014, the LSU Board of Supervisors has pledged $4 million to the LIFT2 Fund and $2.1 million has been doled out through four rounds of grant awards. A fifth round just opened, with applications due on Oct. 17 and grant recipients to be notified in December. Thus far, 22 faculty members at the flagship campus in Baton Rouge have been awarded more than $830,000 through the program. Here’s a look at some of the faculty members behind the most promising inventions that are being pursued with the help of LIFT2 grants.
If LSU Physics Professor Shane Stadler’s invention hits the market, the systems that cool our homes, cars and freezers could change drastically.
The current system for cooling uses compressed gas technology and emits fluorocarbon gases, which can be harmful and are “cumbersome,” says Stadler. With technology that uses a magnetic field to heat and cool, Stadler’s invention eliminates the use of harmful fluorocarbons and reduces energy usage by 20% to 50% in cooling systems.
“A lot of testing still has to happen, but one could see something happening in five years if the material and engineering works out,” Stadler says. “There’s a lot of things to explore and a lot of potential.”
His research began with a grant from the U.S. Department of Energy, but he needed more money for additional testing to make the invention “attractive” to an investor. That’s where the LIFT2 grant came in. “The LIFT funding was absolutely crucial to get to that point,” he says.
Local entrepreneur Herbert Presley created a company, Magnetic Cool, for the purpose of licensing and commercializing Stadler’s invention.
“The market potential for that technology is ginormous,” Maas says of Stadler’s invention. “It’s so big you can’t even think about it in numbers. If he can make it work it’s going to impact the cooling industry everywhere.”
When Mary Landrieu was trying to win re-election to the U.S. Senate in a race against Bill Cassidy, Rob Maness and a host of other candidates two years ago, LSU Assistant Professor of Geography and Anthropology David Sathiaraj watched as pundits and pollsters forecasted a tightly contested primary race.
But every time Sathiaraj crunched the numbers his predictions were far off from those of people like Nate Silver, the data whiz of FiveThirtyEight. Most insiders predicted Landrieu—who ended up losing to Cassidy—would get 46% or 47% percent in the primary.
Then election day came.
Sathiaraj was 0.2 percentage points off the actual results (Landrieu garnered 42%), and he watched as state and national news organizations, pollsters and political experts scrambled to reconcile their projections with the real tally.
Sathiaraj was awarded a LIFT2 grant to build upon the tools that gave him an inside look into where that Senate election was actually headed and build a polling analytics program. He has co-founded Pecan Analytics, a predictive analytics startup, at LSU’s Louisiana Business & Technology Center. The firm’s programs are being used in races in the 2016 election cycle, including the U.S. Senate race and a congressional race.
The program aggregates polling data with other historical information like voter file data, internal campaign data and consumer information to create a more complete picture of political races.
“It enables campaigns to have a smart ground game and to manage their campaigns intelligently,” Sathiaraj says.
The crowded race to replace Sen. David Vitter—which has drawn two dozen candidates—will surely put Sathiaraj’s product to the test over the coming months as the race heats up.
In her capacity as a veterinary surgeon, Mandi Lopez has rubbed shoulders with plenty of human surgeons over the years. And it was while she was getting her Ph.D. at the University of Wisconsin that Lopez first noticed the similarities between human reconstruction of the anterior cruciate ligament, or ACL—a common surgery in the sports world—and the equivalent ligament in dogs, the cranial cruciate ligament.
The discovery launched Lopez on a roughly 10-year study culminating with her invention, a device she says could revolutionize the surgery.
“The market value is extraordinary,” Lopez says. “It could very well find global uses in both human and veterinary markets.”
The device, which landed her a LIFT2 grant, allows a surgeon to attach soft tissue material to bone while simultaneously adjusting the tension. Currently, surgeons cannot do both at the same time, and sometimes they must re-enter the area if the tension is off.
While the product is still at least several years from getting in the hands of surgeons, Lopez is optimistic it will cut down on recovery time, complications and revision surgeries. If approved for use, it will likely be used for shoulder, rotator cuff, ankle and facial surgeries, as well as ACL procedures.
Although John Pojman is a professor of macromolecular chemistry by trade, he’s familiar with business. He created a company, Pojman Polymer Products, to sell a revolutionary polymer putty product that doesn’t dry out, requires no mixing and hardens on command.
So he has high hopes, and some experience to boot, as he studies and prepares for new rounds of testing for another polymer-based invention. But this time, the applications aren’t for artists looking for a user-friendly putty. His new “bone foam” concept, which received LIFT2 funding last year, aims to repair broken bones and stimulate bone growth with a targeted foam that is just as strong as bone and is degradable.
Pojman and his partner, former LSU AgCenter Assistant Professor Daniel Hayes, have tested the product successfully on rats. The next step, he says, is testing on sheep.
“We know it doesn’t kill cells in a test tube,” he says. “But we’re a long way from doing repairs in humans.”
Pojman learned of the need for a new way to repair bones in humans from Hayes. That’s when Pojman took to his lab to study polymer materials made from thiols and acrylates that can harden quickly and become simulated bone. The studies needed to prove, statistically, that the product works, along with getting it approved for use in humans, are costly. Pojman says he needs a commercial partner to begin the next phase. The LIFT2 grant was an important source of funding to continue with the chemistry behind the endeavor, he says.
“Repairing large defects in bones is a significant medical problem with a significant commercial potential,” he says. “However, it is also very difficult to develop materials that can be used in humans because they must not only work well, but not cause harm.”
Equations are scribbled on the whiteboards that surround Supratik Mukhopadhyay’s computer science office at LSU. Ph.D. students file in and out, working on various projects and inventions. A flat screen television displays videos of Mukhopadhyay’s inventions. One of his latest is a program that allows manufacturers and consumers to diagnose problems with appliances, everything from dishwashers to industrial plastics machinery, with a mobile app.
The technology, which he calls Spot Check, is available on Samsung smartphones by downloading the On Spot app. Manufacturers will be able to run an appliance like a dishwasher before shipping it out and use Mukhopadhyay’s technology to determine if it’s running properly. Customers will also be able to diagnose problems, cutting down on shipping and diagnostic costs.
“It’s a revolutionary technology,” he says. “It’s much cheaper, noninvasive and we can deal with anything.”
The “deep learning” technology that powers his invention is modeled after the human brain, he says. After attending the I-CORPS event, he learned the basics of entrepreneurship, and is now working on landing a big investor. The product has already drawn plenty of attention in the business community, he adds.