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Companies warming up to technology incubator

Geoffrey Grant sees no shortage of promising technological advancements sprouting from UTA’s research endeavors. What needs nurturing, he says, is the business acumen of the professors developing them.

As director of the Arlington Technology Incubator, Dr. Grant’s job is to move these inventions from the laboratory to the marketplace. The key is creating strong ties between the University and the business community.

“There are about 20 faculty innovations at UTA now that could be part of the incubator,” he said. “My challenge is to get the faculty to think about the practice of running a business. Technology is simply a company asset. You’ve got to have management, and you need a market to generate a business.”

That’s where the College of Business Administration may play a vital role. Grant has already collaborated with its Small Business Institute and plans to increasingly draw upon the college’s resources. He’s also talking with venture capitalists who want to form a corporation to help faculty members form start-up companies and, as ATI members, become profitable entrepreneurs.

“It’s a long, hard road. Success doesn’t happen overnight. These companies come with technology but without any money. It’s a difficult process for start-ups and requires ongoing rapport.”

TissueGen and Imagecom were the first two companies to join the incubator. TissueGen, whose president and chief scientific officer is biomedical engineering Associate Professor Kevin Nelson, recently signed an agreement to develop the first drug-loaded, totally biodegradable cardiovascular stent to treat coronary artery disease. The company has signed a second joint venture to develop stents for urological applications and plans to continue developing drug-releasing fibers that may one day help repair damaged nerves and organs.

“The incubator provided us a low-cost means of growing during the early stages of our company,” Dr. Nelson said. TissueGen recently graduated from the incubator and moved to Dallas.

Imagecom, which moved into the recently opened incubator facility in November, is a leader in computer-aided design representation conversion. Founded by UTA electrical engineering Professor Venkat Devarajan, the company converts 2-D drawings into 3-D CAD models, a technology with emerging demand in the U.S. military and at-large corporations.

Also ready to join the ATI is AutoCode, Inc., a non-university technology company that’s developing software to automate the building code compliance process. AutoCode is seeking investment money and help to complete its programming.

Established in April 2002, the Arlington Technology Incubator is a joint venture between the University, the city of Arlington and the Arlington Chamber of Commerce. Officials hope that in the long term it will create high-quality, high-paying jobs by transforming new companies into successful, freestanding firms.

“This venture should serve as a catalyst to promote technology transfer,” said Wes Jurey, chamber president and CEO. “It will identify opportunities for commercialization of research ongoing within the University.”

The incubator is housed in a 22,000-square-foot building on Center Street near downtown that was purchased with a $1.4 million grant from the Economic Development Association. Grant, who moved into the space in September, hopes to add on-site laboratories in a year or so. He estimates the facility can accommodate 20-25 start-up businesses.

“We hope to add companies every month,” he said.

Online: http://ati.uta.edu



— Mark Permenter


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