COLUMBIA – Science and business came together under one roof Thursday at the Missouri Technology Expo 2010.
The Expo, held at MU's Christopher S. Bond Life Sciences Center, attracted a crowd of nearly 300 scientists, researchers, entrepreneurs and investors. Ninety-six organizations registered for the event, the first of its kind in Missouri, with 28 groups setting up booths, according to organizer Bandhana Katoch.
The Expo was intended to both create awareness about research being done at Missouri universities and to bring academia and industry together. Chris Fender, director of the MU Office of Technology Management and Industry Relations, said the Expo was supposed to inspire investment in local technologies.
“Primarily we wanted to showcase innovations and technological developments that are being done in Missouri,” Fender said. “Our aim was to create an interaction between researchers, business people and intellectual property experts.”
Monsanto Corp. Vice President Stephen Padgette focused on the commercialization of technology in his keynote address. Using agricultural biotechnology as an example, he said all the major companies in that market are supplementing their scientific developments with commercial strategies.
Padgette said 340 million acres of agricultural land worldwide are being cultivated using biotechnology.
The growing need for technology to meet market demands underscores the role of university based research, he said.
According to Monsanto research presented by Padgette, MU is one of the top 16 schools for plant sciences in the world. Padgette said Monsanto would continue collaborating with the university in the future.
“Currently, Dr. Robert Sharp is doing a study on crop drought," Padgette said, hinting at future collaborations. "Water control is a very important issue, so we are really interested in this research.”
Six companies that were founded on technologies developed at Missouri universities gave short presentations explaining their work. Some of these start-up companies are run by MU faculty members who bought the licenses to patents on MU research.
In one of four plenary sessions held during the day, patent attorney Dennis Bennett told budding inventors to pay special attention to the commercial aspects of their inventions.
“What is commercially viable? How are you going to make money?” Bennett said. “This is what licensees are interested in.”
During lunch, MU Provost Brian Foster gave a presentation on behalf of Mizzou Advantage about the multimillion dollar grants that could result from creating a structurally sound research network at MU.
“We can be a unique asset to firms that would like to build on the technologies that are being developed here,” Foster said.
The Mizzou Advantage program has highlighted five initiatives to develop this network: food, medicine, future media, sustainable energy and management of new technologies.
Wade Foster of Idea Works was promoting a text analytics tool called Veyor that could analyze large digital text files to determine the feelings, sentiments and opinions expressed within. Foster said he believed the Expo would provide his company with networking opportunities.
“There are so many emerging technologies in Missouri,” Foster said. “We might just meet some like-minded people. Ideally, we can even find a passionate buyer.”
Mohammad Rahman, financial officer of Green Technologies, a start-up research and consultancy company in Kansas City, said his business is excited about its exposure to a new market in Columbia. He said the company hoped investors at the Expo would find its use of emerging technologies to promote business efficiency interesting.
Emphasis on entrepreneurship
The Expo emphasized the development of entrepreneurial skills among researchers and local scientists. Greg Scheller, entrepreneur and co-director of the MU Biodesign and Innovation Program, asked young researchers to join existing start-ups in another plenary session.
“To the young people in the room, now’s the time,” Scheller said. “You’ve got nothing to lose.”
Scheller said becoming a successful entrepreneur was not an easy task.
“You have to go in there with your eyes wide open," he said. "You are gonna have to work hard if you want to succeed.”
Nineteen-year-old Jimmy Winkelmann, who founded The South Butt, a T-shirt company, told the audience at another plenary session to be aware that ordinary ideas could lead to extraordinary success.
“You never really know what the next big thing is going to be,” he said.
Marketing the research
The Expo also featured three one-hour elevator pitch presentation sessions on engineering, life science and biomedical science research. Each researcher was given four to five minutes to present his or her work and an additional two minutes to respond to questions. Topics varied from absorbed natural gas storage devices to nanoparticle microbe cleaners and crop nitrogen improvement techniques.
A panel of three judges chose a winner from each category. The winners were awarded $500 each. The winners were:
- Engineering – Venumadhav Korampally for his research on organosilicate nanoparticles and their application in various fields such as electronics manufacturing and textile production.
- Life Sciences – Severin Stevenson for creating a better workflow for categorizing plant seed proteins.*.
- Biomedical – Luis Jimenez for his collagen-based invention done at his company Dermelle, Inc.*
Opportunities and public response
Keshab Gangopadhyay, president of NANOS Technologies and NEMS/MEMS Works, said he was looking forward to the opportunities the Expo might bring for researchers.
“It is encouraging and very good for the city,” he said. “I’m very hopeful that an opportunity will be there for at least one or two products to be taken up by the investors. Hopefully, the Expo will create jobs for the state.”
Danielle Lee of Science and Citizens Organized for Purpose and Exploration said the Expo helped her organization communicate with MU and potential business partners. Her group links Missouri communities to science and technology resources through scholarships and educational and work opportunities at universities and businesses.
Representatives at the Mizzou Advantage booth were also satisfied with the response. Administrative assistant LeAnne Stewart said they used the Expo to spread awareness about their program.
“(The) public has been really excited about it,” Stewart said. “We were able to reach out to people, especially those who had heard about Mizzou Advantage but didn’t know what it was.”