Tag: innovation center

Helping to Commercialize UT’s Big Ideas at The stARTup Studio

Reporter with Silicon Hills News

The October meeting of The stARTup Studio led by Bob Metcalfe, professor of innovation at UT.

The October meeting of The stARTup Studio led by Bob Metcalfe, professor of innovation at UT.

The University of Texas at Austin is like a Thomas Edison lab of invention with its professors cooking up the next great ideas.

The 3-D printing industry started at UT with Carl Deckard, a graduate student in mechanical engineering and Professor Joseph Beaman. Also, Professor John Goodenough created the lithium-ion rechargeable battery.

During the last decade, UT’s Office of Technology Commercialization has helped license technology to start 64 companies, including 48 in Texas, according to its latest report.

To nurture big ideas, Bob Metcalfe, Ethernet inventor and UT professor of innovation, heads up a monthly gathering, called The stARTup Studio, along with Ben Dyer and Louise Epstein, who run the Innovation Center at UT with Metcalfe.

At the event last week, three professors presented their companies, Nova Minds, Heliotrope and Silicon Audio to a small group of industry experts, entrepreneurs, investors and other invited guests at WeWork on Congress. The UT Austin Office of Technology Commercialization, the Austin Chamber of Commerce and WeWork Austin sponsor the events.

“We’re not trying to get them to exchange their lab coat for a brief case,” said Epstein, managing director of the UT Innovation Center. “But we want to help propel their inventions to impact the world…Our job is to help them get to the next level.”


Donglei “Emma” Fan, an assistant professor in the department of mechanical engineering at UT, presenting Nova Minds.

Donglei “Emma” Fan, an assistant professor in the department of mechanical engineering at UT, presenting Nova Minds.

At the event, Donglei “Emma” Fan, an assistant professor in the department of mechanical engineering at UT, presented Nova Minds, an early-stage startup focused on innovative technologies for biomedical research sensing and drug delivery. Frank Zhu is the Chief Executive Officer and Fan is the Chief Technology Officer. Fan “is the inventor of “Electric Tweezers” that can precisely manipulate nanoscale materials in aqueous suspension by combined AC and DC electric fields,” according to her online profile.

Her company is developing high-speed motorized bio-nanosensors. When the materials are reduced through nanotechnology to the tiny size of a fraction of the width of a strand of hair, the sensors can be used for early stage detection of cancer.

Nova Minds is also developing technology for 3-D porous thin films. They could be used for wearable bandages to monitor vital signs or to monitor athletic performance.

In one example, Fan showed a slide with a picture of a young girl playing a violin and said the bandage could be attached to her arm to detect correct posture. Or it could be used to train golfers, she said.

For the next step, Fan plans to apply for National Science Foundation Small Business Innovation Research, known as SBIR, grants.

Heliotrope Technologies

Delia Milliron, co-founder of Heliotrope Technologies and associate professor of chemistry at UT.

Delia Milliron, co-founder of Heliotrope Technologies and associate professor of chemistry at UT. Photo courtesy of UT.

The next presenter, Delia Milliron, co-founder of Heliotrope Technologies, is the Chief Scientific Officer at the early-stage startup that is developing new materials and manufacturing processes for electrochromic devices focused on creating energy-saving smart windows.

“It’s a company,” Milliron said. “It’s not about research. Our goal is to make money and to build a highly profitable company producing smart glass.”

The company, founded in 2013 and based in Berkeley, Calif., created a dynamic window coating of nanocrystals to control light and heat transmission. The windows with the coating can switch between three states: transparent, heat blocking and heat and light blocking. The window can be powered for a year with a couple of double A batteries, Milliron said.

Heliotrope is developing its products for the residential and commercial glass market, with a market size of $16 billion worldwide for smart glass, growing at 5 percent annually. It is also looking into the automobile market.

“It’s a good time for this market play,” Milliron said.

Buildings consume 40 percent of all the energy in the U.S. in lighting control and for air conditioning and heat, Milliron said. The smart windows have the potential to greatly reduce energy costs and to save money and reduce the impact on the environment.

The company received a $3 million grant from the Department of Energy, $1 million National Science Foundation SBIR grant and it has received private seed stage funding. Milliron moved to Austin a year ago and is an associate professor in chemical engineering at UT.

“We see that this is the future for smart glass that this is going to become the standard,” Milliron said.

The biggest hurdle for widespread adoption right now is cost, Milliron said. Today, it costs $50 per square foot for Heliotrope’s smart window technology, they are working to get the cost down to $25 a square foot, she said.

Coe Schlicher, CEO of Silicon Audio, presenting at The stARTup Studio.

Coe Schlicher, CEO of Silicon Audio, presenting at The stARTup Studio.

Silicon Audio

The final presenter, Silicon Audio, has been around the longest and already has a few products on the market. Neal Hall, an assistant professor in electrical and computer engineering at UT, founded the company in 2007.

Silicon Audio created an optical seismometer that records at much lower frequencies. It began creating the device in 2008 and in 2012 showed a prototype to a company in the oil and gas industry, Hall said. The company funded the development and now the product is commercially available, he said.

In 2007, Silicon Audio created a very sensitive, high fidelity microphone for smartphones. The company found a partner for that technology, Hall said.

With capital from two successful projects, Silicon Audio is now developing a magnet-free small-scale radio wave circulator to be placed on a microchip in a cell phone, Hall said. The device has the potential to revolutionize radar and wireless applications, by allowing a cell phone to send and receive data twice as fast on the same channel simultaneously.

“It’s the future of 5G communications,” Hall said. Right now, the communications standard is 4G, but 5G communications is expected by 2020.

Coe Schlicher, CEO of Silicon Audio, said the company looks for a unique technology that is at the inventor level and then works to create a marketable product. Next, they usually apply for a government research grant to develop the product. They generally skip pitching to a venture capitalist and instead go directly to a customer, Schlicher said. That customer invests $2 million to $6 million to bring the product to market, he said.

But with the circulator, Silicon Audio is looking at getting outside funding, Schlicher said. Andrea Alu is an associate professor of electrical and computer engineering at UT and his group members, invented the circulator technology. UT licensed it exclusively to Silicon Audio. Alu is the Chief Technology Officer of Silicon Audio RF Circulator, an affiliated company created in 2014 to bring his technology to market.

The circulator solves a real and growing problem, Schlicher said. Today, radio frequency bandwidth is limited and its availability is decreasing. Up until now, the only solution is to build more cell towers, Schlicher said. But Silicon Audio solves that problem and allows people to send and receive information simultaneously resulting in fewer dropped calls and jammed Wi-Fi signals, he said.

Silicon Audio’s RF Circulator costs ten times less, it’s 100 times smaller and 100 times lighter, Schlicher said.

Louise Epstein Named New Managing Director of the Innovation Center at UT

Louise Epstein, Managing Director of the UT Innovation Center, photo courtesy of UT

Louise Epstein, Managing Director of the UT Innovation Center, photo courtesy of UT

The University of Texas at Austin’s Cockrell School of Engineering has named Louise Epstein as the managing director of its Innovation Center.

In the newly created job, Epstein will focus on entrepreneurial endeavors including managing the Longhorn Startup Program, which helps student and faculty led startups. She will also work closely with Bob Metcalfe, faculty director of the center and program manager of Longhorn Startup and Ben Dyer, entrepreneur in residence at UT.

“From entrepreneur to elected official, Louise brings a broad range of experience to the Innovation Center. Her commitment to the university and her initiative, focus and determination make her an excellent addition to the Cockrell School,” Metcalfe said in a statement. “She will surely inspire students and faculty, and I know she will provide strong leadership in taking the center to the next level.”

Epstein’s background is in investment banking and she founded Charge-Off Clearinghouse, a distressed debt company. Epstein also served on the Austin City Council. She also graduated from UT Austin and has served as an entrepreneur-in-residence at the McCombs School of Business and as a fellow at the IC2 Institute.

For more on Epstein and her new job, please read this UT report.

AT&T Plans to Open Innovation Center in Austin

imgres-2AT&T announced plans Wednesday to open a new center for technology innovation and collaboration in Austin.

The Dallas-based company did not provide details on how many people the center will employ or its cost. It did report its making a multi-million dollar investment. Currently, AT&T employs about 2,600 people in the Austin area.

In addition, AT&T is awarding a series of technology grants to local technology organizations and is sponsoring the 10th anniversary of Austin Fusebox Festival.

The innovation center will focus on education, data analytics, video and mobile applications and solutions. It will also include a studio open to community members to create unique content for AT&T’s TV, online and mobile platforms.

“The new AT&T center is being designed to help connect Austin in new and rewarding ways based on community member input,” Dahna Hull, vice president and general manager, Austin, AT&T Services, said in a news release.

AT&T is also rolling out an all-fiber AT&T U-Verse with GigaPowerSM service, which the company announced last year.
AT&T’s new innovation center will serve as a catalyst for collaboration among community leaders, residents, educators, technologies and entrepreneurs.

“Opening a center for innovation in the heart of the city will create even greater opportunities for Austin’s entrepreneurs, technology developers, and students,” Austin Mayor Lee Leffingwell said. “AT&T will have an opportunity to work closely with the many talents in our city, and the community stands to benefit from the exciting collaboration that will take place in this facility. We are fortunate to have companies like AT&T that appreciate our culture and invest in our future.”

In addition, AT&T announced plans to award endowments to the Austin Technology Council, the Austin Technology Incubator, Capital Factory, Entrepreneurs Foundation and Tech Ranch.

“The community investment initiative will also support the 10-year anniversary of the Austin Fusebox Festival, a 12-day hybrid arts festival promoting local culture, arts and technology, planned for April 2014,” according to a news release.

Austin to Play a Key Role in Transforming GM

Austin’s combination of educational institutions and IT professionals convinced General Motors Cos. to open an innovation center here and hire 500 workers, said Timothy Cox, its executive director for enterprise solutions.
“We’re looking for the best and brightest to help us,” Cox said Friday morning during a phone interview.
Cox will deliver the keynote speech at Innotech Austin, a technology conference at the convention center next Thursday. He plans to tell the GM transformation story.
“What we are doing and how we are doing it and specific steps we’re taking,” Cox said.
A big part of that transformation will take place at GM’s new innovation center in Austin. Cox has been at the new center, which opened in a former Dell building at 717 E. Parmer Lane, interviewing job candidates.
“It’s been good so far,” he said. “We have some good people on the ground with us. We’re hiring people on a project basis.”
GM wants to hire software developers, project managers, database experts, business analysts and other information technology professionals.
“As we go through this transformation of the company we are bringing back in house core IT skills,” Cox said.
Software applications that the company once outsourced to others will now be done inside the company to increase productivity and efficiency, Cox said.
Workers in Austin will create operating systems and software applications for GM’s Information Technology Group. They’ll create a broad range of tools for internal use for GM. They will not be working on in-car engineering design systems, he said. That group is based in Michigan.
“To run a company like GM there’s a lot of large sophisticated business processes to automate,” Cox said.
In 1984, GM acquired Ross Perot’s Electronic Data Systems, known as EDS, for $2.55 billion to modernize and automate the carmaker and to expand into the IT industry. But the integration of the two companies never worked and GM ended up spinning off EDS as an independent company in 1996.
“Because of the speed of the market and competition we found that we can move faster if we have direct control of those resources,” Cox said. “It’s all about innovating more quickly so we can get a leg up in the marketplace and be more competitive.”
Once the largest car and truck maker in the U.S. with more than 48 percent market share, GM’s market share has shrunk to around 18 percent of the market in 2012, according to a recent article in Forbes. GM’s partners make vehicles in 30 countries. Its brands include Chevrolet, Cadillac, Buick, GMC and Isuzu. Cox drives a Cadillac ATS, a luxury sedan that is

GM’s all-new Cadillac ATS (Photo by Sam Sharpe for Cadillac)

“light and nimble,” he said.
While Austin is not known as an automotive center, that’s not important, Cox said.
“There are broad array of capabilities required to run automotive company,” he said. “While Austin may not be an automotive center it’s very much an information technology center. Its breadth of technical skills in this area is a real asset.”
GM plans to build four innovation centers around the country. It announced Austin as the first center and a few weeks ago it announced the second one will be located in Michigan. The other two sites have not been announced yet.
GM has also announced it plans to hire 3,000 people from its business partner, Hewlett-Packard. But Cox said he doesn’t anticipate that many of those people will be in the Austin area. Most of the employees in the local innovation center will come from Austin, he said.
“We’re very pleased to be here,” Cox said. “It’s a wonderful city. Great people. We look forward to a long and productive relationship here.”

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