sprouting ideas

University of Texas launches $10 million seed fund with investment in vaccine storage pioneer

The first seed will be planted in Jurata Thin Film, a revolutionary vaccine storage technology. Photo by dszc Getty Images

Planting a seed seems like a quaint activity, but the University of Texas at Austin doesn't do anything small. Its new $10 million UT seed fund is going into incubation soon, thanks to the efforts of Discovery to Impact, the team leading the University's "research commercialization and innovation efforts."

Except for its scale, this project is no different from any other seed investment, which inputs capital into a business in the form of a lump sum, in exchange for a portion of the business. In this case, the recipients are "promising new startups built on university-owned intellectual property," according to a press release. In total, UT Austin estimates that this intellectual property, or research enterprise, totals $800 million, a number it commits to "dramatically expand."

“By investing in these early-stage companies, we will be addressing a crucial gap in the capital market and enabling development of impactful technologies, while encouraging investors to consider opportunities coming out of the university,” said vice president of business strategies and operations Jim Davis in the release.

Discovery to Impact helps launch startups and stays on board through the many growing pains many startups experience, helping to accelerate "new products, services, solutions and cures." This means choosing and collaborating with three or four new companies each year, and when divided, the seed does appear rather small: companies can expect no more than a $250,000 investment.

The first seed will be planted in Jurata Thin Film, in order to grow solutions that streamline vaccine and biologic development and distribution worldwide. As many who followed COVID-19 vaccine news are aware, one major problem in distributing a vaccine is keeping it cold and stable. Jurata, based on the work of UT College of Pharmacy professor Maria Croyle, makes "thin films" (look up this keyword to see how unique Croyle's contribution is) that preserve vaccines for up to three years at room temperature. This is excellent news for communities with fewer resources or more arduous shipping needs.

The company is still relatively young, although not brand-new, having been founded in 2019. Its leadership has more experience; CEO Sheila Mikhail and co-founder Jude Samulski have previously collaborated on Asklepios BioPharmaceutical Inc. (AskBio) and Bamboo Therapeutics Inc.

The UT Seed Fund investment, along with other funding, will help bring about a pilot-scale manufacturing line that can create 1,000 doses of loaded thin films per hour, plus studies to ensure the safety of the formulation under the tongue, inside the cheek, and via intramuscular injection.

“Jurata is very excited to be the first recipient of UT Seed Fund,” said Jurata’s senior director of business development, Megan Livingston. “UT has been extremely supportive of our technology and development, and we look forward to continuing our relationship through this investment.”

A similar seed fund already exists at the University of Texas at Dallas, with larger sums for each business. More information about research at UT Austin is available at utexas.edu.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

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Building Houston

 
 

Ben Jawdat, CEO and founder of Revterra, joins the Houston Innovators Podcast. Photo via LinkedIn

With more and more electric vehicles on the road, existing electrical grid infrastructure needs to be able to keep up. Houston-based Revterra has the technology to help.

"One of the challenges with electric vehicle adoption is we're going to need a lot of charging stations to quickly charge electric cars," Ben Jawdat, CEO and founder of Revterra, says on the Houston Innovators Podcast. "People are familiar with filling their gas tank in a few minutes, so an experience similar to that is what people are looking for."

To charge an EV in ten minutes is about 350 kilowatts of power, and, as Jawdat explains, if several of these charges are happening at the same time, it puts a tremendous strain on the electric grid. Building the infrastructure needed to support this type of charging would be a huge project, but Jawdat says he thought of a more turnkey solution.

Revterra created a kinetic energy storage system that enables rapid EV charging. The technology pulls from the grid, but at a slower, more manageable pace. Revterra's battery acts as an intermediary to store that energy until the consumer is ready to charge.

"It's an energy accumulator and a high-power energy discharger," Jawdat says, explaining that compared to an electrical chemical battery, which could be used to store energy for EVs, kinetic energy can be used more frequently and for faster charging.

Jawdat, who is a trained physicist with a PhD from the University of Houston and worked as a researcher at Rice University, says some of his challenges were receiving early funding and identifying customers willing to deploy his technology.

Last year, Revterra raised $6 million in a series A funding round. Norway’s Equinor Ventures led the round, with participation from Houston-based SCF Ventures. Previously, Revterra raised nearly $500,000 through a combination of angel investments and a National Science Foundation grant.

The funding has gone toward growing Revterra's team, including onboarding three new engineers with some jobs still open, Jawdat says. Additionally, Revterra is building out its new lab space and launching new pilot programs.

Ultimately, Revterra, an inaugural member of Greentown Houston, hopes to be a major player within the energy transition.

"We really want to be an enabling technology in the renewable energy transition," Jawdat says. "One part of that is facilitating the development of large-scale, high-power, fast-charging networks. But, beyond that, we see this technology as a potential solution in other areas related to the clean energy transition."

He shares more about what's next for Revterra on the podcast. Listen to the interview below — or wherever you stream your podcasts — and subscribe for weekly episodes.


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