ENGINE grants aim to jump-start technological innovations

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — A pilot program in Penn State's College of Engineering is providing financial support to faculty to transition their early-stage research results through a proof-of-concept phase, with the ultimate objective of forming a start-up company or licensing the technology to an established business.

The College of Engineering ENGineering for Innovation & ENtrepreneurship (ENGINE) grant program is currently funding four projects.

Theresa Mayer, associate dean for research and innovation in the college, said, "This program was established to address the 'valley of death' that often occurs between developing a product and taking the product to market. The ENGINE grant program also supports President Barron’s Invent Penn State initiative."

The following faculty received ENGINE grants for 2015-2016:

  • Tony Huang, professor of engineering science and mechanics, "Development of a Microfluidic System for Complete Blood Counts"
  • Donghai Wang, associate professor of mechanical engineering, "Development of High-Energy-Density Lithium Alloy-Sulfur Batteries"
  • Darrell Velegol, Distinguished Professor of Chemical Engineering, and Manish Kumar, assistant professor of chemical engineering, "Piloting Diffusiophoretic Membrane Fouling Reduction"
  • Qiming Zhang, Distinguished Professor of Electrical Engineering, "Solid State Electrocaloric Effect Based Cooler"

Huang, Wang, Velegol and Zhang recently presented progress reports on their research to a committee that included Mayer as well as representatives from the Smeal College of Business, Penn State's Office of Technology Management and Penn State's Office of the Vice President for Research.

The committee agreed that all four projects successfully completed the initial proof-of-concept phase, and they have now moved on to the second and final phase to deliver a proof-of-concept prototype and conduct a proof-of-relevance market analysis. Over the next few months, Smeal MBA students will help to assess the commercial viability of the new technologies.

Steve Carpenter, adjunct instructor in Smeal’s Farrell Center for Corporate Innovation and Entrepreneurship, is coordinating the proof-of relevance work being conducted by the student teams as well as some outside consultants.

He said the ENGINE grant program is a win-win for Smeal and the College of Engineering. "The Smeal College and the selected MBA students are excited to be a part of the commercialization efforts of new technologies from the College of Engineering and other colleges within the university. The MBA students gain valuable experience from this process while the information that we provide can help the scientists to better understand the commercial potential of their technologies."

The Penn State Research Foundation Fund for Innovation is matching one dollar for every two dollars provided by the College of Engineering for each project.

"The mission of the Fund for Innovation is to promote commercialization of the new ideas and discoveries generated by our research programs," explained Peter Linder, director of the Fund. "The College of Engineering's ENGINE grant program directly aligns with this mission."

He said commercializing promising ideas and creating new companies and new jobs increases the already sizeable positive impact that Penn State has on the economy of Pennsylvania. "Our hope is that the fund will serve as another important catalyst in this effort."

Mayer added, "At the halfway mark, each of the ENGINE grant awardees presented their initial product data sheet to the committee. The data sheets provided a brief description of the envisioned commercializable product and the targeted technical performance specifications. At the conclusion of the grant, each team will present their market evaluation and demonstrate their proof-of-concept prototype."

According to Mayer, successful projects will be eligible to compete for additional funding for company formation.

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Last Updated December 07, 2015