C. elegans is a transparent, 1 millimeter worm that shares many of the same genes and molecular pathways as humans. Its average lifespan, however, is considerably shorter — two weeks.
For Eugene-based NemaMetrix, this tiny worm has led to some big discoveries. Today the biotechnology firm helps scientists around the world research human health and explore treatments for diseases.
It’s a striking example of campus research evolving into an Oregon business — and precisely the kind of startup that the University Venture Development Fund is working to create. As 2018 comes to a close, the university is hoping a 60 percent state tax credit will inspire donors to give to the fund and help put this kind of innovation to work for Oregon.
“The UVDF arrived at a crucial time,” said Shawn Lockery, a UO biology professor who co-founded NemaMetrix along with biology professor Janis Weeks. That was 2009, when he was working on a proof-of-concept for a “worm chip” that captures and monitors C. elegans.
“They helped me begin the process of optimizing the device for ease of use and manufacturability,” Lockery said.
That device — the founding technology behind NemaMetrix — is enabling scientists to study new drugs by using the worms.
Venture development funding also helped launch Portland-based Insignia Health, as well as Perpetua Power, which developed a Power Puck that can generate electricity from the differences in temperature commonly found in industrial operations.
Seed grants for student entrepreneurs helped launch Cricket Flours — yes, flour, brownie mix and more made from crickets — Boogie Bikes, TougHER — one of the first brands of heavy-duty work gear for women — legal service website Lawger and Trail Supply Co., a resupply service for long distance hikers.
More recent, and nascent, student ventures supported by the fund include Algotek, which makes a biodegradable plastic wrap that dissolves in water, and Kau Bell Whey Vodka, a sustainable spirit made from excess whey from the dairy industry.
In addition to seed funding for new projects and support for student entrepreneurs, the fund also sponsors innovation training programs. Lens of the Market, for example, helps graduate students accelerate the impact of their research and transform scientific studies into successful business models.
The state hopes to accelerate UO innovation and entrepreneurship by offering a total of more than $2 million in tax credits for UO donors. For Oregonians with a state tax liability, it may be a great way to support inventive startups while reducing their taxes.
A tax deduction only reduces taxable income. However, a tax credit directly reduces tax liability. Every individual case is different, so consult with a tax professional. The credits will be offered on a first-come, first-served basis, and the maximum tax credit available for an individual is $600,000.