Reporter with Silicon Hills News
The University of Texas ranks as the fourth most innovative university in the country, according to a recent report by Reuters.
It’s in good company with Stanford taking the top spot, followed by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard University.
And Pitchbook, a venture capital research firm, recently crunched a bunch of data looking at founders of companies that received a first round of VC funding since 2006 and found the University of Texas ranks in the top 10 schools nationwide. UT ranked eighth with 561 founders creating 511 companies and raising $4.7 billion in venture capital.
And one of the drivers behind all of the innovation going on at UT Austin is the Innovation Center at the Cockrell School of Engineering. It is run by Bob Metcalfe, professor of innovation and inventor of Ethernet, Louise Epstein, executive director and serial entrepreneur, Ben Dyer, serial entrepreneur and Entrepreneur in Residence and Steve Nichols, professor and Advanced Manufacturing Center Director.
Every month during the school year, they put on the StARTup Studio to showcase innovation spinning out of classrooms and laboratories at UT Austin. The Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce, WeWork Austin and the Office of Technology Commercialization at UT sponsor the events.
Last week, three professors presented their early-stage startups to a few dozen invited guests in a conference room in the Ernest Cockrell Jr. Hall at UT.
First up, James Sulzer, assistant professor of mechanical engineering, presented ShrugNoMore, a physical therapy device that detects should hiking. The device solves a problem for therapists and improves treatment and shortens therapy time for patients, Sulzer said.
Spinal cord injuries and other injuries in which patients shrug their shoulders when they exercise leads to shoulder impingement and can result in further treatment, Sulzer said. The simple ShrugNoMore device can detect shoulder hiking and warn patients when they are elevating their shoulders, he said. The device, shaped like a barbell but as thin as a bandage, attaches to the back near the shoulder and clicks whenever the patient elevates their shoulder. Sulzer and his students created a prototype which they are evaluating right now.
They are also potentially marketing the device to people who have rotator cuff (a group of tendons and muscles which connect the shoulder joint to the arm) issues with five million doctor’s visits a year and 250,000 people getting surgery every year, Sulzer said. The ShrugNoMore device costs $30.Next up, Lili Qiu, professor of Computer Science, developed a motion tracking technology called CAT, an alternative to a mouse device to track hand movement. Qiu’s technology can accurately track hand movement and gestures in the air using existing mobile devices based on echolocation or sound, much like how a bat detects objects.
The CAT technology sends inaudible sound signals to track in real time hand movement to communicate with the microphone of a smart phone or smart watch or another device, Qiu said.
The CAT technology provides a user interface alternative to the mouse that allows consumers to communicate with all kinds of smart devices in their home including TVs, laptops, watches, game consoles and more, she said.Lastly, Simon Humphrey, assistant professor of chemistry, presented NanoAlloyCatalysts, a technology that uses microwave synthesis to create catalysts for petrochemical and other companies.
Ninety percent or more of all chemical processes require a catalyst at some stage, Humphrey said. A catalyst helps speed up a chemical reaction, but is not consumed by it.
“The opportunities in this market are very clear,” Humphrey said. “The petrochemical market in just the sales of catalysts annually is about $1.5 billion and it’s growing. And the sales for catalysts in cars is about $5.8 billion. And these types of catalysts are finding new applications in fuel cells.”
Oil refining companies are looking for better catalysts to make their operating systems more efficient and that’s where Humphrey sees a big opportunity.
Humphrey’s solution is to make very small “nano” size catalysts that allow companies to get a “lot of bang for their buck.”
NanoAlloyCatalysts is in the seed stage of development. Its intellectual property is licensed from UT and Humphrey is interested in partnerships and collaboration to do pilot scale testing.