Inventions from a low-cost prosthetic foot to a flexible 3D-printed rubber blend may get in consumers’ hands faster with the help of grants from two local universities.
The University of Texas at El Paso and the Texas Tech Health Sciences Center El Paso awarded eight grants of up to $50,000 each to faculty from both universities who are developing technologies that show potential for commercial success.
The faculty are using the grants to help move their inventions to the market, using the money on buying raw materials to funding research assistants.
The grants come from a joint fund, called the El Paso Innovation and Commercialization (EPIC) Fund, that was started with a $250,000 state grant from the Texas Emerging Technology Fund and $125,000 in matching dollars from both universities, UTEP Associate Vice President for research Stephen Aley said.
“EPIC was designed with the entrepreneur, the researcher in mind, to help seed more innovation that has commercial potential,” said Eli Velasquez, director of entrepreneurship and innovation for Texas Tech University at a reception Wednesday.
One invention that received EPIC funds is a low-cost prosthetic foot targeted for the developing world. Similar high-quality prosthetics typically cost between $1,000 and $4,000 in the United States, said Aaron Nystrom, director of engineering operations for El Paso-based LIMBS International, which provides low-cost prosthetics to the developing world.
Nystrom received the grant along with LIMBS President and UTEP professor Roger Gonzalez.
“Obviously someone living on $2 a day can’t afford that kind of thing,” Nystrom said. “So this is much more affordable.”
The prototype cost about $80 to make, but the prosthetic should be even cheaper once it’s mass produced, he said.
Another recipient, Texas Tech assistant professor Brad A. Bryan, developed a test to better differentiate between cancerous and non-cancerous tumors that develop in fat cells. Current tests often misdiagnose whether the cancer is malignant or not, Bryan said.
Ubaldo Robles, a graduate student at UTEP shows a Spatially Variant Anisotropic Metamaterial developed at UTEP that won a 50,000 grant during the El Paso Innovation & Commercialization Fund awards at the Hub of Human Innovation at 500 W. Overland Wednesday. The invention can be placed inside a mobile phone to improve its antenna reception and battery life. (Rudy Gutierrez — El Paso Times)
“You want to know if you have a really, really bad cancer, and a lot of the technologies are incapable of distinguishing between those,” he said.
UTEP chemistry professor Russell Chianelli and graduate student Eva Deemer received a grant for their work developing and testing a low-cost form of graphene — used in touch screens, phone batteries and more — from crude oil refinery waste, Deemer said.
A small, prescription-size bottle of graphene oxide typically costs between $125 to $250, Deemer said. Their version is much cheaper, she said, pouring the material into her hand.
“This little bottle cost me a couple of cents because we make roads out of it,” she said.
UTEP assistant professor David Roberson received a grant for his work creating a flexible, shock-absorbing 3D-printed rubber blend that could be used to make helmets or car seats.
“You can use the customization that 3D printing allows to make helmets that can fit a specific person’s head, or if we have a car seat that’s more conformable to a child,” Roberson said. “So hopefully we can get this commercialized and have this EPIC grant be a big success.”
Faculty received their grants earlier this year, but were recognized Wednesday during a reception at The Hub of Human Innovation to connect tech transfer managers, investors and entrepreneurs.
“We’re sort of the conveners,” The Hub CEO and President Cathy Swain said. “We’re the collaborators.”
The EPIC Fund may be a one-time-thing because the state Emerging Technology Fund has ended, Aley said. The universities will continue to solicit money from investors and help faculty move their technologies to market, Aley said.
“These are great ideas,” he said of the grant recipients, “and there are dozens more where they came from.”