University of Minnesota honors innovation, entrepreneurship of top researchers
The University of Minnesota recognized researchers yesterday evening whose groundbreaking research and entrepreneurial spirit have led to new technologies that hold the potential to address major societal challenges.
The Inventor Recognition Event, presented by the Office of the Vice President for Research and U of M Technology Commercialization, celebrated the recent achievements of University researchers and the breakthroughs that have resulted from their efforts.
"We are fortunate to have an academic community prolific not only in the generation of groundbreaking research outcomes, but also imbued with entrepreneurial spirit,” said Chris Cramer, Ph.D., the University’s vice president for research. “Their innovation and creativity leads to new technologies that, when connected with capital and entrepreneurial expertise—sometimes in partnership with existing companies—can bring these discoveries from the lab to the marketplace, with real potential to improve lives in meaningful ways.”
This year’s event recognized 455 University inventors whose technologies were licensed or patented between July 2016 and June 2018. During those two years, researchers submitted more than 800 disclosures of new inventions, and Technology Commercialization filed for more than 400 patents to protect the intellectual property behind some of these inventions.
“The contributions of our prolific academic community are what ensures the U of M can fulfill its mission as a public, land-grant research university,” said University President Eric Kaler. “Every day, their tireless progress toward the creation of new knowledge, new processes and new products provide growth opportunities for businesses, benefit the public good and improve quality of life in Minnesota and beyond.”
The event also included the presentation of the 2019 Innovation Awards to recognize four exemplary researchers who have demonstrated exceptional academic ingenuity and entrepreneurial drive in working to bring innovations beyond the lab. This year’s winners are:
- Early Innovator: Branden Moriarity, Ph.D., Medical School, Masonic Cancer Center
Branden Moriarity harnesses the power of genome engineering, where scientists reprogram DNA, to develop innovative immunotherapy approaches for treating highly lethal forms of cancer. Moriarity’s work, combined with that of his colleagues, was the foundation for B-MoGen Biotechnologies Inc., a University startup company launched in 2016. He currently serves as B-MoGen’s chief scientific officer.
- Entrepreneurial Researcher Award: Jian-Ping Wang, Ph.D., College of Science & Engineering
Jian-Ping Wang researches how the “spin” of an electron and its associated magnetism, rather than its charge, can be used as the basis for next-generation computing technologies that are faster, smaller and more energy-efficient. Among the results of Wang’s research are a new material and process for making magnets that could replace the expensive and environmentally costly rare earth metals vital to wind turbines, hybrid/electric vehicles, hard disk drives and generators (the basis for University startup Niron Magnetics), as well as a portable device that quickly and accurately screens patients for early signs of a variety of disease and health conditions (the basis for startup Zepto Life Technology).
- Impact Award: Jim Luby, Ph.D., and David Bedford, College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences
Jim Luby and David Bedford’s extensive contributions to the University’s apple breeding program have resulted in new apple varieties with improved texture and flavor, as well as an improved ability to maintain quality while in storage. Their research led to the introduction of the world-renowned Honeycrisp apple. Most recently, Bedford and Luby released First Kiss, (known as Rave when grown outside of Minnesota), an apple with a crisp texture, spritely flavor and early harvest date.
- Committee’s Choice Award: Kenneth Beckman, U of M Genomics Center, Masonic Cancer Center; Daryl Gohl, U of M Genomics Center; Dan Knights, College of Science and Engineering, Masonic Cancer Center
Beckman, Gohl and Knights are the inventors behind CoreBiome, a University startup launched in 2017 that analyzes communities of microbes for human health, agricultural and environmental applications. Their suite of technologies enable microbiome analysis with unprecedented speed, reproducibility and accuracy, allowing their customers to harness big data to create breakthrough products and therapies. The startup was acquired by OraSure Technologies Inc. in 2019.
To view videos about each Innovation Award winner, visit z.umn.edu/inventor-recognition.
Overall, the University holds 900 patents and 1,800 current licenses for research-based technology in health, biotechnology, chemistry, engineering, agriculture and other fields. U of M Technology Commercialization facilitates the transfer of University research to licensee companies for the development of new products and services that benefit the public good, foster economic growth, and generate revenue to support the University's mission. Through its Venture Center, Technology Commercialization has also launched 145 startup companies to bring University discoveries to market since 2006.