UO researchers fill out class of startups in local accelerator

Two groups of researchers at the University of Oregon are finding a marketplace for their discoveries with assistance from the Regional Accelerator & Innovation Network (RAIN). Backed by the Oregon legislature, RAIN is a partnership formed by entrepreneurs, government, higher education, and the business community to advance the formation of high-growth, innovative startup companies in Oregon’s South Willamette Valley.

NemaMetrix and Flash Materials, both based on research conducted at the UO, were among the nine startups accepted to the next class of the RAIN Eugene Accelerator, the local branch of the regional network. The accelerator program provides training and mentorship to early stage startup companies.

Founded by UO biology professors Shawn Lockery and Janis Weeks and managed by CEO Matt Beaudet, NemaMetrix is the developer of the “worm chip,” a drug discovery platform that uses microscopic worms to investigate disease mechanisms and treatments.

The worms in the chip are the nematode C. elegans, a tiny organism that measures 1 millimeter long and 50 microns wide, which has a strong genetic similarity to humans. According to Lockery, sixty percent of the worm’s genome is conserved in humans. Researchers can create mutations within the worms that render them drug resistant, in order to test and refine a particular drug—and with eight worms in each device, researchers can collect a lot of data.

Weeks was the recipient of a 2013 Grand Challenges Research Grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which funded the deployment of the worm chip as a new tool in the drug development pipeline, specifically for human soil-transmitted helminthic (STH) infections. Two to three billion of the world’s poorest people carry STH infections, yet only four anti-parasitic drugs for worm infections are approved for human treatment.

The other startup from the UO, Flash Materials, was founded by Andrew Ritenour, a graduate PhD student in the laboratory of Shannon Boettcher, assistant professor of chemistry and biochemistry at the UO. A recipient of the UO’s Julie and Rocky Dixon Award, Ritenour is developing and testing the viability of a new solar cell technology that could significantly improve the technology’s efficiency while also reducing the cost of production.

The University of Oregon is a key partner in the Oregon Regional Accelerator and Innovation Network (RAIN). In addition to support for the RAIN Eugene Accelerator, the UO provides funding for local startups through the University of Oregon Foundation Seed Fund, makes shared laboratory space available for research and development, and trains the state’s future creators and innovators through its comprehensive liberal arts graduate and undergraduate programs. Over half of the founders in the RAIN Eugene Accelerator have connections to the UO as alumni, current students, or faculty and staff.

Interested in learning more about startups at the University of Oregon? Connect with RAIN@UO to find other students and faculty interested in entrepreneurship and innovation.