Researchers who are looking to take their ideas out of the lab and into the marketplace need to be able to translate their concepts into a language that entrepreneurs can understand. That’s just what a University of Oregon research team led by chemists Darren Johnson and Michael Haley did when they won the top prize at a National Science Foundation–funded program designed to bring scientific innovation into the private sector.
The UO’s SupraSensor team participated in the NSF Innovation- Corps (I-Corps) program held at Stanford University, where they delivered a winning pitch on nitrate sensors for precision agriculture during the final presentation session and graduation ceremony.
Calden Carroll, the team’s entrepreneurial lead, said I-Corps judges credited the UO team for its energy, flexibility, and "intellectual honesty." Teams SupraSensor includes Bruce Branchaud, professor emeritus of chemistry, and August Sick, the “entrepreneur in residence” from the Oregon Nanoscience and Microtechnologies Institute (ONAMI).
The group has patented its technology and established the company SupraSensor Technologies. The team has been working with the UO’s Innovation Partnership Services office and is applying for additional grants and developing a prototype of the nitrate sensor, which promises to fulfill a need for real-time monitoring of fertilizer application in environmentally sustainable precision agriculture. Suprasensor has three employees and will begin conducting field trials in January 2014. The startup is funded by NSF Small Business Innovation Research Phase I and Ib grants, as well as an ONAMI Gap grant. The firm has raised $550,000 in nondilutive capital for research and development. Carroll emphasizes that SupraSensor aims to remain an Oregon-based company.
“Our mission statement includes fighting the idea that investment in basic science has little application in the real world,” Carroll adds.