May 26, 2016

6 Ph.D. students learn to commercialize their research

Bryan Peele/Provided
This prototype device features a stretchable, rubber-like material that illuminates, provides tactile feedback and can be pressurized to form buttons that appear as needed. The system, created by doctoral student Bryan Peele, is ideal for touchscreen interfaces and wearable electronics.

Many engineering students spend their graduate years immersed in a particular technology, and now six doctoral students will spend the summer and the fall semester exploring the potential to turn that research into a business.

They are the first Commercialization Fellows, part of a new entrepreneurship initiative offered by the College of Engineering in which students work one-on-one with mentors and coaches to identify potential market opportunities for their technology by developing comprehensive, strategic business plans.

The students and technologies:

David Agyeman-Budu, confocal X-ray fluorescence microscopy – This X-ray technique can be used to noninvasively analyze the chemical makeup of an object. Agyeman-Budu will focus on detection of counterfeit electronics, pharmaceuticals and fine art. Similar X-ray implementations are energy-dependent and sacrifice resolution, but this technology uses a novel optic technique that doesn’t depend on the energy of fluorescent X-rays.

Amanda Bares, hyperspectral multiphoton microscope – The first-of-its-kind microscope can image fluorescent cells in living tissue using 48 channels of color information. Most multiphoton microscopes imaging at the same depth detect up to four colors. This technology allows a researcher to image a live mouse brain, for example, and see blood vessels, neurons, nuclei and various cells all in the same image.

Bill Bedell, infection-free insect cell lines – These proprietary lines of insect cell cultures could serve as the production basis for the first wave of commercial therapies that treat a disease by introducing genes, in the form of RNA or DNA, into a patient’s body. Similar gene therapies under development tend to harbor viral infections, which can be costly to remove from the cultures.

Mitchell Ishmael, active energy storage – This technology intelligently manages different sources of thermal energy to inexpensively store electricity, helping to incorporate renewable resources into the power grid. Diurnal temperature swings can further enhance storage efficiency when storing electricity as thermal energy. This technology represents a step forward over conventional pumped-heat electricity storage units.

Bryan Peele, hyperelastic light-emitting capacitor – This system features a stretchable, rubberlike material that illuminates, provides tactile feedback and can be pressurized to form buttons, ideal for touchscreen interfaces, especially in vehicles where the driver needs to maintain eye contact with the road. The technology also has applications for wearable electronics.

Madhur Srivastava, signal processing denoiser – This signal-processing method uses “wavelet transforms” to remove signal noise and improve results of spectroscopic and imaging methods like ESR, NMR, MRI and CT. At significantly reduced time and cost, this denoising method uses features such as new noise thresholding formulas to improve available methods and will enable accurate studies in laboratory and clinical settings.

The fellows will learn the methods and skills to bring technology to market, connecting with expertise in supply chains, intellectual property, product development, capital raising and startup company formation. In addition to the fellowship’s coaches and mentors, students will have access to alumni, entrepreneurs and business experts, and will be matched with teams of MBA students who will assist in finalizing business plans and pitch materials.

“Startups are usually resource poor, but as a Cornell student I have a huge number of resources available to me: everything from the faculty to the libraries,” said Ishmael, a doctoral student in materials science and engineering. “Being able to investigate my technology as a student with access to all the tools and help Cornell offers is a serious leg up.”

Bares, a doctoral student in biomedical engineering, views the fellowship as an opportunity to enhance her marketability. “It has been my intention for years to enter industry after receiving my Ph.D. However, to contribute meaningfully in a smaller company, I anticipate that a deep knowledge of product development, business and marketing practices, and a cultivated, entrepreneurial mindset will be necessary and highly valued. This fellowship gives me the opportunity to learn these skills,” said Bares.

Co-directors of the Commercialization Fellowship initiative are Emmanuel Giannelis, associate dean for research and graduate studies at Cornell Engineering, and Tom Schryver, executive director of the Center for Regional Economic Advancement and leader of the Entrepreneurship and Innovation Institute at the Samuel Curtis Johnson Graduate School of Management.

Syl Kacapyr is public relations and content manager for the College of Engineering.