UT at Austin Professor Led Startups Disrupting Oil Recovery, Social Media and IoT

By LAURA LOREK
Reporter with Silicon Hills News

UT at Austin Professor of Innovation Bob Metcalfe kicks off the StARTup Studio at WeWork.

UT at Austin Professor of Innovation Bob Metcalfe kicks off the StARTup Studio at WeWork.

At the April meeting of the StARTup Studio on Tuesday night, Ultimate EOR, People Pattern and AwiaTech Corp. presented their ventures.

All of them have University of Texas at Austin professors at the helm.

The monthly StARTup Studio invitation-only meetings take place at WeWork on Congress and serve as a high-level show and tell gathering for technology commercialization projects spinning out of university research. It’s also a way to expose the companies to potential funders and others in the community who can provide feedback and assistance.

The Innovation Center at UT Austin led by Bob Metcalfe, professor of innovation, Louise Epstein, managing director and Ben Dyer, Entrepreneur in Residence, put on the meetings with sponsorship from the Austin Chamber of Commerce, WeWork Austin and the UT Austin Office of Technology Commercialization.

The Innovation Center gives grants to early stage startups led by a professor from UT, ranging from $10,000 to $100,000, Metcalfe said. It also accepts donations from individuals, companies and organizations that wish to assist the ventures.

Mojdeh Delshad, president and CEO of Ultimate EOR presents her company at the StARTup Studio.

Mojdeh Delshad, president and CEO of Ultimate EOR presents her company at the StARTup Studio.

The first presenter, Mojdeh Delshad, president and CEO of Ultimate EOR, is tackling a trillion dollar industry. It licenses special chemical technology developed at UT and creates formulas for oil companies to extract even more oil from existing wells. Delshad is also a research professor in the Department of Petroleum and Geosystems Engineering at UT at Austin.

The company, founded in 2013, has 10 full time employees and four contractors. Its focus is on chemical enhancement recovery. Its chemicals are environmentally safe and energy efficient, Delshad said.

Ultimate EOR has raised $6 million from investors and strategic partners including D&M, Clariant Oil Services, Harcros & Univar.

“First of all, we have very special chemicals developed at the University of Texas,” Delshad said. “We have exclusive rights to use them.”

The company creates customized formulas such as alkaline/surfactant/polymers or alkaline/co-solvent/polymers to put into an oil well and scrub it of oil, followed by a water flush. This can lead to 20 percent more oil production. The company specializes in enhanced oil recovery modeling and reservoir engineering. It also licenses its chemicals to other companies for a royalty fee.

It is also working with polymer manufacturers and surfactant manufacturers to test their materials in its laboratories, Delshad said.

And even though the price of a barrel of oil has dropped to $40 and a lot of companies are slowing down field tests this year, Ultimate EOR expects to be profitable, Delshad said. It has diversified its business into training, testing and other fields that bring in a revenue stream when oil production dips, she said.

Jason Balridge, chief scientist with People Pattern and Ken Cho, CEO of People Pattern.

Jason Balridge, chief scientist with People Pattern and Ken Cho, CEO of People Pattern.

Next up, People Pattern presented its software that mines information in social media to provide brands insights about their customers. Its secret sauce is the use of data science and linguistics to analyze the words people use and to provide companies with precise demographic information on their customers.
Jason Balridge, chief scientist with People Pattern and associate professor in the department of linguistics at UT at Austin joined Ken Cho, CEO of People Pattern, in 2013 to launch the company. They later hired Doug Wolfe, formerly with Facebook, as Chief Operating Officer.

Information extraction on social media channels is complex, said Balridge. For example, when someone says Apple are they referring to the fruit or the company, he said.

“There’s a lot of levels of depth you can go to when analyzing language,” he said. People Pattern deals with millions upon millions of social media profiles at scale and can turn that data into actionable insights for companies.

People Pattern now has 17 full time employees and operates out of a former medical supply warehouse on Austin’s east side.

“People pattern helps you understand the people behind your brand and conversations, rather than using disparate post level insights based on passive keyword based listening,” Balridge said.

“How old am I and where do I live and what are my main interests,” Balridge said. “These are all things that brands we work with want to know about their customers.”

For example, People Pattern might work with its customers like McDonald’s and Campbell’s to understand the Hispanic audience in Detroit and to find a better way to cater to them, Balrdige said.

People Pattern has more than 200 million people in its database.

“What that allows companies to do is to search through that database and find influencers for a brand,” Balridge said. They can then use natural language processing technology to reach them with tailored ads, he said.

To date, People Pattern has raised $4.75 million. It expects to do $3.2 million in revenue this year, Cho said. It is not looking to raise money. It is cutting its burn rate and trying to get to cash flow break even, he said. It’s also an attractive acquisition target in the marketing technology industry, Cho said.

Jeff Song, CEO and Thomas Lin, CTO with AwiaTech.

Jeff Song, CEO and Thomas Lin, CTO with AwiaTech.

The last presenter, AwiaTech Corp. started out as a research project at UT at Austin eight years ago. The researchers behind the company, Advanced Wireless Industrial Analytics Technology, helped to create a communications standard for the industrial Internet of Things called the WirelessHART. The company incorporated to commercialize its technology in 2008.

AwiaTech has an exclusive license agreement with UT at Austin to commercialize its wireless technology. The company is led by Al Mok, chairman and president and professor at UT in Computer Science along with Jeff Song, CEO and Thomas Lin, CTO.

“Our vision is to be the premier provider of wireless real time data collection and analytics for mission-critical Internet of Things,” according to Song.
Its technology and sensors can be used in industrial process automation, medical monitoring, robotics and other applications.

AwiaTech has created a software and hardware infrastructure that is designed to perform wireless real-time data collection and analytics. It passed registration by the industry standard organization FieldComm Group. Its customers include UConn, Western University in Canada, NST and UTP.

The installed base of active wireless devices in industrial automation was $18 million in 2016 and the market is expected to grow to $43 million by 2020, according to AwiaTech based on information from Industrial Automation, Wireless IoT and Berg Insight.

Comments

  1. Dr. Al Mok says:

    Thank you for the informative article about our company, Awiatech’s participation in the UT Startup Studio last week. The WirelessHART communication protocol mentioned in the article is now a standardization product of the HART Communication Foundation (now FieldComm Group). My research group at UT is proud to have played a role in the creation of the WirelessHART standard, as our research at UT contributed to prototyping some of the key elements and investigating the performance of this wireless communication protocol.

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