COLLEGE PARK, Md. - An innovative Maryland technology transfer program - the first of its kind in the United States to partner federal labs and public universities - has received an award honoring its success.
The Maryland Proof of Concept Alliance, which teams the Army Research Laboratory (ARL) and the University System of Maryland, was recognized as a national model by a group representing federal labs.
The Mid-Atlantic Federal Laboratory Consortium for Technology Transfer (FLC) - has made the Alliance the first recipient of its Partnership Award honoring successful collaborations between educational institutions and federal labs.
To speed researchers' innovations to market and help create jobs, the University of Maryland-led Alliance gives small, targeted grants for demonstration projects that can help prove to potential investors that a successful laboratory concept works - often a make-or-break challenge.
"The Maryland Proof of Concept Alliance demonstrates that this tech-commercialization approach translates quite effectively to the federal sector," says Mojdeh Bahar, FLC chair and former coordinator of the FLC's Mid-Atlantic Region.
"Proof of concept has worked well in the private sector, and it's quite an effective way of transferring promising technologies from university research labs into the marketplace. The Maryland program offers an important example of what public universities and federal labs can do together," Bahar adds.
The award was presented at the FLC's regional meeting in Cambridge, Maryland on Oct. 6.
"This program has successfully demonstrated the capability to identify, and help commercialize university developed technology," says the Alliance's Principal Investigator Jacques Gansler, who directs the University of Maryland's Center for Public Policy and Private Enterprise, and formerly served as U.S. Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics.
"Too many promising technologies never make it beyond university labs, when they could be commercially viable, and go on to create jobs. I am thrilled with the recognition of our project by the Mid Atlantic Federal Lab Consortium for Technology Transfer," Gansler adds.
Several private universities, such as the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of Southern California have created dozens of companies in this way over the past decade, but the Maryland Alliance was the first involving public research universities and a federal investor, says Co-Principal Investigator Brian Darmody, University of Maryland associate vice president for research and economic development, who first proposed the Maryland Alliance.
"The program has succeeded in advancing some key technologies," Darmody says. "We've helped the Army invest in research that holds terrific promise for its future use, and also has great future commercial potential in civilian markets as well."
HOW IT WORKS
The Alliance teams University System of Maryland institutions and the U.S. Army Research Laboratory, whose headquarters are at the Adelphi Laboratory Center. The University of Maryland, College Park administers the program.
In effect, the Army becomes the "first buyer" - an important step in commercialization. This helps meet U.S. Department of Defense needs, but the technology is "dual use," meaning it has significant potential for civilian applications as well.
Karen Laforme, the Army program integrator at ARL, who has worked on the Alliance from its inception, also sees the importance of combining capabilities to speed technology-oriented solutions to rapid commercialization.
"When university inventors and Army technology experts can collaborate on prototype acceleration, all parties benefit," Laforme says. "The soldier needs the solution, and the Alliance brings its inventions to bear for the benefit of all parties."
So far, researchers affiliated with three University System of Maryland institutions have received grants:
- University of Maryland, College Park
- School of Medicine, University of Maryland, Baltimore
- University of Maryland, Baltimore County
Among the technologies that have progressed the furthest in terms of attracting equity funding, linkage with start-up firms, commercial opportunities, testing and licensing of intellectual property:
- Revolutionary Thin-Film Battery to Power Military
Microelectronics: FlexEl, a company founded by UMD engineers and
advanced by UMD's TAP Incubator, has invented a thin-film battery
with the breakthrough performance along five key criteria for
military and civilian applications - provides dramatically higher
energy density than competitor offerings; recharges at
low-voltages; can be manufactured using very low cost techniques;
easily manufactured to meet the requirements of almost any
conceivable application; and the battery has very low toxicity.
"Perhaps the greatest indication of the success of our technology transfer is our relationship with a Fortune 100 commercialization partner," says FlexEl's final project report to the Maryland Proof of Concept Alliance. "The company has grown from zero full-time staff at the time of grant application, to seven full-time employees. Our plans are to grow to 12 full-time employees by the end of this year."
- Integrated Process for Biofuels Production: Zymetis is a biotechnology company created by University of Maryland scientists, using intellectual property licensed from UMD, to develop methods for cost-effective production of biofuels and other biorefined products. The University of Maryland has an equity stake in the firm, and will receive royalty payments and fees from the sale of the technology. Zymetis was recently acquired by a larger business better equipped to scale-up the process for widespread use.
- Non-Inflammatory Surgical Sutures and Mesh: Gliknik, Inc., working together with the University of Maryland Baltimore (UMB), has developed an anti-inflammatory surgical suture and surgical mesh prototype designed to help soldiers and veterans from developing hypertrophic scarring and keloid formation. The company reports that as a result of Alliance funding it has raised $2 million in additional equity capital.
U.S. Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) secured critical funding through the Department of Defense to launch the Alliance, with assistance from Congressman Steny Hoyer and the Maryland congressional delegation.
"This is all about new technology, new jobs and national security," says Sen. Mikulski, who championed the initial two-years of federal grants funding the $5.1 million program. "It is so important that we invest in the technologies of the future - to keep our country safe, stay on the cutting edge and grow the innovation workforce of tomorrow."
"This alliance leverages the abundant federal research presence in our state," says University System of Maryland Chancellor William E. 'Brit' Kirwan. "The System's research institutions are producing significant advances, and we need to make the most of them. By energizing some of our most promising work, the state and the nation will be big winners in the globally competitive innovation economy."