Ideas are a lot like a good bourbon — developing them takes time, care and constant refining.
At the University of Louisville, we apply that methodology to the ideas that come out of our research. Rather than keep them in the classroom or lab, we use those ideas as a mash that we ferment, double and age into products, companies and partnerships — each with a potential human, societal and economic impact that reaches far beyond our campus. I’ve been proud to be part of that process, first as a researcher and inventor, then as U of L’s interim executive vice president for Research and Innovation.
For just one recent example of our “distilling” success, take Kentucky-based Talaris Therapeutics, Inc. The company recently announced it had raised $100 million to develop a cell therapy that could allow living-donor kidney transplant recipients to stay off the costly, and physically draining, immunosuppression drugs they would otherwise need for the rest of their lives.
The unique therapy was born from decades of pioneering U of L research. Research is the raw material behind many of the ideas we distill — the corn, barley and rye that go into the proverbial bourbon mash. U of L ranks as one of only 131 Carnegie “Research 1” universities in the U.S., so we have a lot of mashable material.
We run that mash of ideas through a robust innovation distillery that includes intellectual property protection, community partnerships and our suite of entrepreneurial and innovation funding and training programs.
We offer entrepreneurial training through our outstanding College of Business and the Forcht Center Entrepreneurship MBA program. U of L is also the only institution in the country to have received the six most prestigious innovation grant awards intended to help translate academic research into viable products from the National Institutes of Health, National Science Foundation and Wallace H. Coulter Foundation.
These programs enable innovators to perform customer discovery on their concept, separating the alcohol vapors from the “mash,” and honing in on a research-backed product that will be commercially viable and benefit customers.
One example of this is the team of U of L researchers working to extend the shelf life of donated blood. This technology has the potential to save lives in military and disaster relief situations where the current six-week viability window for blood is just not enough. The invention team participated in our translational research programs and is now working with industry partners and an early stage company to accelerate market introduction.
In other cases, we work with entrepreneurs outside U of L to build a company on a research-backed idea. For example, we have one startup developing a technology invented at U of L for recycling the vulcanized rubber used in products like car tires. The technology uses creative chemistry to sustainably reclaim the rubber, rather than burn it or put it in a landfill. Supporting this research not only means helping our environment, but economic development — the startup is now opening facilities in Louisville.
To help other entrepreneurs, U of L has partnered with the Kentucky Cabinet for Economic Development, Louisville Healthcare CEO Council, XLerateHealth, Techstars and local entrepreneurial leaders on the KY RISE Initiative to form Louisville Entrepreneurship Acceleration Partnership, or LEAP. The idea is that when new ventures are first launched, they have the opportunity to stay close to the U of L innovation ecosystem, while growing their business.
Though we’re just one year into the LEAP partnership, we have already seen many successes. One recent example came out of U of L’s innovative Entrepreneurs In Residence (EIR) program, funded by LEAP, which pairs seasoned entrepreneurs with university technologies in order to accelerate their path to market.
One of those entrepreneurs has now licensed a technology for measuring employee engagement, the first license from our College of Education and Human Development, and is now building a startup company around it — right here in Louisville. The company received a $25,000 Vogt Award and was named by Business First as a “startup to watch” in 2020.
These efforts — and the ideas that come out of them — push boundaries, expand possibilities and energize the local and regional economy through partnerships and entrepreneurship.
At U of L, we aspire to be a great place to learn, work and invest. I’m extremely proud of the work we’ve done, and I look forward to all that’s ahead for U of L’s ground-breaking research and the lives it will eventually change and improve. Distilling U of L research and innovation into products and companies is a big part of making that happen.