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Virginia Innovation Partnership Injects $860,000 Into University Research Projects Statewide

A statewide network designed to accelerate innovation and economic growth has awarded $861,086 to 18 university research projects across the commonwealth.

The Virginia Innovation Partnership, created last fall as part of the U.S. Department of Commerce’s i6 Challenge, provides proof-of-concept funding to advance early-stage research, also connecting academic researchers with mentors, corporations and investors to accelerate commercialization of the new discoveries.

“The Virginia Innovation Partnership is bringing together ideas and talent from every corner of the state to move those ideas from the laboratory out into the world, where they can create new jobs and new economic growth in this region,” said Thomas C. Skalak, vice president for research at U.Va. and principal investigator on the i6 grant.

Researchers from 10 academic institutions in Virginia submitted funding proposals for 84 projects. An external advisory group with government, corporate, research, community and venture capital experience selected 27 projects for oral presentations, with 18 of those ultimately selected for funding.

“Innovation is the bright spark vital to human progress from the dawn of civilization,” said Roop L. Mahajan, a member of the Virginia Innovation Partnership’s advisory board. “The Virginia Innovation Partnership is designed to ignite this spark with an emphasis on taking inventions from bench to bazaar.

“We are proud to be a partner in this effort with other universities across the commonwealth of Virginia,” added Mahajan, director of the Institute for Critical Technology and Applied Science and Lewis A. Hester Chair in Engineering at Virginia Tech.

Funded projects address unmet needs in a number of areas, including health care, energy, environmental sustainability and information technology. Among the awarded projects are a vaccine to ward off Lyme disease and other tick-transmitted illnesses, under development at Virginia Commonwealth University; a more economical way to measure and predict traffic patterns, under development at Old Dominion University; cybersecurity software technology to prevent cyber-attacks on websites, under development at U.Va.; and new materials that could make everyday cosmetics safer for the environment, under development by The College of William & Mary in partnership with the Virginia Institute for Marine Science.

The awards mark the Virginia Innovation Partnership’s first round of funding. The partnership is supported by $1 million in federal funding over two years as part of the i6 Challenge, with additional matching funds provided by corporate participants, university partners and other entities.

“The Department of Commerce launched the i6 Challenge to unlock the innovative capacity of the country in markets not traditionally known for entrepreneurial activity,” said Aneesh Chopra, former U.S. chief technology officer. “It’s not only resident in Silicon Valley and in Boston, but in markets home to Virginia’s world-class research assets and elsewhere that are the real pockets of opportunity moving forward.

“The i6 program is a nationally competitive grant designed to find these innovative ecosystems and to provide them seed capital to scale what works.”

The Virginia Innovation Partnership includes all of the research universities in Virginia, with overall research activities of more than $1.5 billion annually; the state’s community colleges; 10 commercialization incubators; and multiple corporate and government agency partners.

“The Virginia Innovation Partnership will drive economic growth and job creation by providing critical early-stage funding as well as an extensive mentoring network and an annual venture capital showcase to accelerate the adoption of promising research discoveries throughout the commonwealth,” said W. Mark Crowell, a member of the partnership’s governing board. Crowell is executive director of U.Va. Innovation, which administers the partnership, and associate vice president for research at U.Va.

A list of funded projects follows:

The College of William & Mary awardee:

  • “Ocean safe biodegradable microspheres for the cosmetic and toiletries industry,” led by Kirk Havens and Donna Marie Bilkovic, was awarded $60,000.

Eastern Virginia Medical School awardee:

  • “Evaluating P1C1 in a model of acute intravascular hemolytic transfusion reaction,” led by Neel Krishna, Dr. Kenji Cunnion, Julius Nyalwidhe and Frank Lattanzio, was awarded $70,000.

Old Dominion University awardee:

  • “Synergistic traffic counting: A cost-effective solution to traffic count collection,” led by ManWo Ng, was awarded $40,000.

University of Virginia awardees:

  • “PureMadi: Metallic-ceramic technologies for global household water purification,” led by James Smith, Dr. Rebecca Dillingham and Richard Crawford, was awarded $50,000.
  • “Effective cooling solutions for very high heat flux applications,” led by Hossein Haj-Hariri, was awarded $40,000.
  • “Gas expanded lubricants: Energy efficiency and increased reliability in power production using tunable fluids,” led by Andres Clarens and Timothy Dimond, was awarded $40,000.
  • “Surge suppression technology based on active magnetic bearings for increasing the energy efficiency of centrifugal compressors,” led by Zongli Lin and Se Young Yoon, was awarded $40,000.
  • “Hacker-proofing the Web,” led by Anh Nguyen-Tuong, Jason Hiser and Jack Davidson, was awarded $40,000.
  • “A non-scaffold drug delivery system to treat nerve injury,” led by Christopher Deppman and Anthony Spano, was awarded $40,000.
  • “Augmenting Erythropoiesis,” led by Dr. Thomas Braciale and Taeg Kim, was awarded $40,000.
  • “Reconfigurable array of magnetic automata,” led by Stuart Wolf and Jiwei Lu, was awarded $40,000.

Virginia Commonwealth University awardees:

  • “Development of a novel chimeric vaccine for tick-transmitted disease,” led by Jason Carlyon and Richard Marconi, was awarded $70,000.
  • “Transporter-directed prodrugs for drug delivery to the brain: In vivo proof of concept,” led by Phillip Gerk, was awarded $68,000.
  • “Point-of-care biomarker of ischemia,” led by Dr. Lynne Gehr, was awarded $40,000.
  • “Airway stent delivery system,” led by Dr. Aamer Syed and Dr. Hans Lee, was awarded $40,000.
  • “Sustained drug release formulation for glaucoma,” led by Hu Yang, was awarded $40,000.

Virginia Tech awardees:

  • “Vortex-induced vibration energy harvester for distributed power supply,” led by George Hagerman, Richard Hirsh, Khai Ngo, Shashank Priya, Mark Stremler and Pavlos Vlachos, was awarded $51,880.
  • “Coupling of nanofibrous electrodes with nanostructured electrolytes for enhanced performance in energy storage devices,” led by Robert Moore and E. Bruce Orler, was awarded $51,206.

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