Multidisciplinary Approach to Economic Success

The Technological Innovation: Generating Economic Returns (TI:GER) program out of Georgia Tech teams PhD students in engineering and science with MBA and law students in a multidisciplinary academic experience focused on the commercialization of university research. The program combines the efforts of two universities – Georgia Tech and Emory University – and is the only of its kind to pair entrepreneurship and science with law.

Here at the Kauffman Foundation, we were lucky to learn more about TI:GER from Kauffman Foundation grantee, and TI:GER founder, Marie Thursby, in her visit to the Foundation last month. Self-selected teams of five scholars work together for two years studying the potential issues involving the commercialization of an idea brought in by a PhD candidate at an early stage of research.

The goal of the project is experiential learning on to how to bring university research to market. Developing a business venture right off the bat is not Thursby’s aim for the program, although business creation is sometimes a side effect. Regardless of whether or not this research is applied into new businesses, the quality of technological development over the course of this project is remarkable. In this post I will highlight some of the impressive technologies spawned from TI:GER.

LymphaTech

Lymphedema is a debilitating disease affecting nearly half of all women who have undergone breast cancer surgery and radiation treatment. The disease is undetectable until symptoms have set in, and can be both physically disfiguring and can lead to other infections. 

One TI:GER team developed a diagnostic tool using near-infrared sensor technology which allows patients to monitor lymphatic pressure with a device similar to a blood pressure cuff. The company formed in 2014 and has been successful in securing funding for further research, prototype development, and are working on developing FDA trials. The team will be focusing on building a device that would work for both at-home and clinical markets, and is working to improve the quality of life for many breast cancer survivors.

Syzygy Memory Plastics

Syzygy Memory Plastics is a company created out of the TI:GER program seeking to improve quality of life for people like myself, for whom it seems impossible to find earphones that will stay in their ears. This team has created a plastic technology that reacts to body temperature to control shape and stiffness.

The plastic is made up of shape memory polymers (SMPs) that revolutionize the chemistry of the plastic, allowing for flexibility and self-adjusting of these smart materials. The product has memory characteristics, wear resistance, and adapts to the wearer. Furthermore, the team has developed a manufacturing technique that will make this new technology more cost-effective than similar products in the past.

According to the CDC, hearing loss is one of the most common occupational diseases in the world, and the standard earpieces we have today have poor usage statistics, in part due to the discomfort of current products. Syzygy Memory Plastic can be used for everyday earplugs and earphones, but eventually hearing aids and even artificial skin.

Kidney Dialysis Device for Children

Another team out of the TI:GER program received further funding after their program competed to be a part of the Atlanta Pediatric Device Consortium, funded by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to help develop a kidney dialysis device for children. Previously, kidney dialysis devices have only been available in adult sizes, and have to be adapted to suit the needs of children. Problems can occur with adult size dialysis machines as they can take too much fluid from the child leading to dehydration, create blood pressure loss, and shock. The introduction of this child-friendly technology will better serve the kidney dialysis needs of children.

TI:GER Success

22% of the teams have started businesses out of the TI:GER program, and each team has significantly developed the community of university research commercialization within the involved institutions, which is the ultimate goal of the program. Thursby believes that the program has succeeded because ideas and teams are designed by the PhD candidates rather than the program coordinators, and because of the multidisciplinary nature of the collaboration. As a result, some important technologies have been developed for commercialization, and other researchers outside of TI:GER can learn from the program’s experience on how to put good research ideas into business practice. 

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