04 Aug Stratatech and Virent Win $4M in U.S. Grants
MADISON, WI – U.S. Representative Tammy Baldwin and Wisconsin Governor James Doyle have announced that two Wisconsin companies will each receive federal grants of $2 million to further their cutting-edge research and product development efforts.
Both based in Madison, Stratatech Corporation is developing “StrataGraft” skin tissue that could serve as synthetic skin, and Virent Technologies develops technologies that use non-flammable, renewable feed stock to produce hydrogen for fuel cells.
“I am thrilled that two high-tech start-ups in our community have been recognized for their vision,” Baldwin said. “It is a real testament to the power of research harnessed at the University of Wisconsin spinning off viable businesses.” The research and development grants worth $4 million have been awarded since 1990 by the Department of Commerce to cutting-edge technology firms doing high-risk research. Until now, Wisconsin has been home to only nine award winners, including Third Wave Technologies.
The grants, awarded by the U.S. Department of Commerce as part of their 2003 Advanced Technology Program (ATP), help companies to develop technologies that promise significant commercial value and widespread benefits for the nation. The new awards represent a total of up to $35.46 million in ATP funding and an industry share of up to $22.28 million, if all projects are carried through to completion.
“This program is a great example of public-private partnership,” Baldwin said. “Recognizing and rewarding private firms missing word do cutting-edge research that could have major environmental implications is a good use of public dollars.”
“Wisconsin tech companies have what it takes to compete for and win federal grants, as Virent and Stratatech have shown,
” said Tom Still, president of the Wisconsin Technology Council. “The technologies being developed in Wisconsin can match or excel those being transferred to the market in other states — but our companies are only now learning to take advantage of merit-based federal grant programs. Wisconsin’s members of Congress should be congratulated when they help Wisconsin companies compete for federal aid dollars that otherwise would be spent in other states,” Still said.
Gov. Jim Doyle congratulated the two Wisconsin companies. “The awards from this program are a primary source of R&D capital for visionary, high-technology businesses that will have an impact across several industrial and social sectors,” Gov. Doyle said. “I salute these companies for their commitment to developing the products and processes of the future, and for contributing to the growth of Wisconsin’s economy.”
The ATP partners with companies of all sizes, universities and not-for-profits, encouraging them to take on greater technical challenges with potentially large benefits for the nation – challenges they could not or would not do alone. Grants are selected through open, peer-reviewed competitions, and all industries and all fields of science and technology are eligible. The Stratatech and Virent awards were two of only 16 ATP grants announced out of 136 proposals in the second round of 2003 ATP funding. In all, the ATP has awarded 63 grants, out of nearly 700 proposals in 2003. The ATP award process is very competitive.
“We were able to build both a strong technical and business case and we hit the right balance,” said Virent CEO, Randy Cortright. “We were able to demonstrate the business case that if we can make this work there is a big market for us. We are now working on hydrogen energy sources for power backup. In the future, we will take what we have learned from smaller applications that we develop and show how our technology is scalable for uses such as in automobiles.”
Stratatech: Artificial Skin
Dr. Lynn Allen-Hoffmann, who discovered and developed the NIKS technology (Normal Immortalized Keratinocyte that produce skin), founded the company in 1999 as a spinout of the University of Wisconsin-Madison to develop a range of living skin tissue products for the treatment of burns and chronic wounds that plague diabetics and the elderly.
Stratatech Corporation plans to use the grant to further develop and demonstrate technologies for room-temperature preservation and shipping of living cells, tissues, and tissue-engineered products for use in treating chronic wounds, heart attack and diabetes. The approach involves a rapid, ice-free freezing process called vitrification, followed by drying. The company also will implement several recent advances in cryopreservation and freeze-drying solution development. If successful, the project will reduce prices and inventory losses, and extend the shelf life of tissue-engineered products.
“Stratatech is thrilled to have this technology recognized for its importance by the U.S. Department of Commerce,” said Dr. Lynn Allen-Hoffmann, president and CEO of Stratatech. “We are excited not only for what the technology could mean to us but also what it means for other companies in the field, doctors who use these products, and the patients who need them.”
This technology will allow Stratatech and a wide range of other companies to fully realize the remarkable potential of cell-based therapies and tissue engineering for the treatment of a variety of human diseases. The company has the exclusive license for a unique, patented skin cell technology discovered and developed at the university. It currently includes a newly discovered immortalized, human skin cell line that is ideal for various testing procedures on chemicals and compounds to be used in health science applications. The cells can be produced on demand and can generate an intact epidermis, representing a consistent, pathogen-free source of human cells. They are an ideal screening platform for irritancy, toxicology, and other health products tests that would normally utilize live animals or skin cells from individual human donors.
In the past year, Congresswoman Baldwin has nominated Dr. Allen-Hoffmann for a number of accolades for her cutting-edge research. “I am so honored my district is home to high-tech firms like Stratatech,” Baldwin said. “After touring their facility and learning more about their research, I was confident in Stratatech’s ability to revolutionize wound care as we know it.”
Virent Hydrogen Energy
Virent Energy Systems began operations in 2002, and was founded by Dr. Randy Cortright and Professor James Dumesic to commercialize a unique new process called Aqueous-Phase Carbohydrate Reforming (ACR) to develop and commercialize a simplified novel method of hydrogen production. It could have major implications for how energy is harnessed. Hydrogen from sugar water, or Aqueous Phase Reformation,was discovered in labs at UW-Madison’s Department of Chemical Engineering in 2001. This process can produce hydrogen and/or hydrocarbon fuel gas from waste streams, waste biomass, and energy dedicated biomass crops.
This award will allow us to develop truly unplugged portable power for applications such as laptop computers,” said Virent CEO Randy Cortright. “It validates our efforts and gives us a real shot at powering cars with safe hydrogen.
Virent is currently focusing on two ACR technology products: a renewable hydrocarbon fuel gas generator and a hydrogen generator for portable or transportation fuel cell applications. The renewable fuel gas generator can be coupled with an internal combustion genset to generate renewable electricity. The hydrogen generator enables the safe and compact storage of hydrogen for fuel cell applications.
Virent Energy Systems, LLC plans to use its grants to develop and demonstrate catalyst and reactor technologies that use non-flammable feedstock to produce hydrogen for fuel cells. Fuel cells convert fuels such as hydrogen or methanol into electrical power. The company’s compact device will provide five times the energy density (or run time) of today’s advanced batteries. The process is more efficient and works at relatively low temperatures and pressures to generate less carbon monoxide, thus eliminating the problem of catalyst poisoning. If successful, the project will increase the quality of consumer electronics by extending the run time of laptop computers to a full workday, at the same time creating a new portable power industry based in the United States.
In the future, Virent believes the simple ACR process offers significant energy, environmental, and economic benefits across a broad range of fuel and electric power applications. Virent believes the ACR global renewable energy, renewable fuel, portable power, and transportation fuel and distributed power generation markets.