Entrepreneurship sits at the heart of innovation, often driving commercialization and economic development in the state.
The University of Tennessee has a wealth of innovators across the UT System who are constantly contributing their passions and skills to bring new ideas, goods, and services to the market. Committed to supporting entrepreneurial activity in the region, the University of Tennessee Research Foundation (UTRF) provides these innovators with many of the necessary resources to form a startup from UT innovations or intellectual property.
“We are proud to help advance UT technology startups that positively contribute to the economic growth of our region,” said Stacey Patterson, UTRF president and vice president for research, outreach and economic development at UT. “The significant increase in startup numbers for FY 2020 reflect both the hard work of innovators across the UT System and the UTRF licensing staff’s dedication to supporting our entrepreneurial community.”
In the fiscal year 2020, UTRF assisted in the launch of six startup companies based on UT intellectual property representing industries ranging from drug development and biotechnology to composite manufacturing and artificial intelligence.
- Aurora BIO, Inc.: Menlo Park, California
Aurora Bio is a clinical-stage biotechnology company focused on amyloidosis, including novel diagnostics and therapeutics. They are fighting to improve the lives of patients suffering from systemic amyloid diseases such as light chain (AL), transthyretin (ATTR), and LECT2 amyloidosis. Aurora Bio is developing peptide-based immunotherapies and cell therapy that targets phagocytosis of amyloid deposits leveraging the exquisite binding properties of its peptide technology. Aurora’s technology has broad applications and the potential to address up to 30 systemic amyloid based diseases.
- Azimuth Sleep Solutions, Inc.: Germantown, Tennessee
Azimuth Sleep Solutions is on a mission to eradicate obstructive sleep apnea. With over 20 years of experience in care of patients with obstructive sleep apnea, the Azimuth team works closely with leaders in the field of sleep medicine and dental science to design products to meet the treatment needs of customers. The team is working to build the future of CPAP mask design.
- Endeavor Composites, Inc.: Knoxville, Tennessee
Founded in June 2019, Endeavor Composites, Inc. is committed to a cleaner world by providing a zero-waste solution for fiber and composite manufacturers. Its nonwoven technology can transform any fiber trims, short spools, early production fibers and recycled fibers into a new product to cater to the advanced composites industry. These nonwoven fabrics are guaranteed to be defect-free, high tolerance density consistency and tailored to specific customer needs.
Founder and Chief Executive Officer Hicham Ghossein has dreamt of running his own company from his childhood. When he made his initial discovery as a doctoral student, it was the supportive environment of UT, UTRF, and Oak Ridge National Laboratory that fostered his entrepreneurial mentality and motivated him to turn his dream into a reality.
“I really appreciate the great support from the scientific and research community here because that is what gave me the courage to take the leap of faith,” said Hicham.
- NPI, LLC: Oxford, Mississippi
Launched in 2020 by Ryan Yates, a Principal Scientist at the University of Mississippi School of Pharmacy’s National Center for Natural Products Research, NPI, LLC is a technology-driven natural product discovery and development company, which leverages its cutting-edge artificial intelligence and machine learning algorithms, along with its deep expertise in natural product chemistry and pharmacology, to assist dietary supplement companies in the development of their botanical innovation pipeline. The company also pursues the development and commercialization of its proprietary botanical ingredients, which includes its SmartCore technology licensed from UTRF.
- SEAK Therapeutics: Memphis, Tennessee
Founded in November 2018, SEAK Therapeutics focuses on advancing drug development for pediatric cancers. In September 2019, the National Cancer Institute awarded the startup with a one-year, Phase I SBIR grant in the amount of $299,823 to further develop its current lead compound, and is likely to be awarded a second Phase I SBIR grant from the NCI in early 2021.
Founder Wei Li is a Pharmaceutical Sciences professor at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center and Director of the UT College of Pharmacy Drug Discovery Center. He described the process of founding the company as a “steep learning curve,” but was also a well rewarding experience. He was thankful for UTRF’s support along the way.
“It’s a big commitment,” explained Wei. “You have to really believe the technology is going to work. You have to be committed both in terms of the time it takes and financial resources. But no matter how far we can go, it is a great experience for me.”
- Tel Boxx, LLC: Knoxville, Tennessee
Tel Boxx LLC, formed by two UT alumni Drs. Nima Tamaddoni and Graham Taylor, to further develop and sell a product called the TEL BOXX™, Tamper Evident Lock Box. The TEL BOXX proactively limits hospital exposure to non-reimbursable high costs due to patients with a history of IV drug use, who are historically uninsured or Medicaid insured. In collaboration with nurses and UTRF, the TEL BOXX was developed by Dr. Matthew Mench, Interim Vice Chancellor for Research at UT Knoxville, with key additional contributions to the initial design by Drs. Chad Duty and Matthew Young, professors in the Tickle College of Engineering. The TEL BOXX has been used by eleven hospitals in eight states. The cost-effective design is the only tamper evidence device that can be used on IV lines while infusing patients.