28 Apr CTT – Bridging the states entrepreneurial gap
MADISON – In the past, when entrepreneur Ken Schlager started a company, he looked to the west or east coasts for funding sources. This time around, Schlager is turning to the Center for Technology Transfer (CTT) in Madison for help as he launches a cutting-edge technology that applies electromagnetic fields to wastewater treatment.
Schlager, a 75-year-old electrical engineer, has developed a process that oxidizes wastewater and removes organic materials, while also disinfecting and removing microorganisims – thereby reducing costs and treatment time in municipal wastewater treatment plants. Schlager, who is based in Hartland, and his company, Bioelectromagnetics, have secured one patent and have another pending.
But, with himself and an administrative assistant as the only employees, Schlager needs help protecting his processes and in writing grant proposals to secure funding. This is where CTT comes in, as it assists Schlager in identifying and applying for federal and state grants, as well as providing loans and assisting him in protecting his intellectual property.
“This is a platform technology,” Schlager says, “and they can help us out a lot in terms of applications in the paper industry in the treatment of recycled pulp. We need to raise major equity once our demonstration projects are done, and they can help furnish it. They follow the technology, unlike most venture capitalists or angel investors who don’t know it for nothing.”
Wisconsin’s CTT is a private, non-profit corporation funded by the Department of Administration’s Focus on Energy program. CTT’s mission is to improve the competitiveness of Wisconsin business clusters, including forest products, metal casting, bioproducts and bioenergy, printing, chemicals and plastics and other areas.
CTT funds projects with an energy benefit. In Schlager’s case, his process has the potential to reduce the energy costs associated with treating wastewater. At two wastewater treatment plants in the greater Milwaukee area – one in Jackson and the other in Brookfield – Schlager’s process is being installed and demonstrated for potentially widespread use. Installation of the process, which uses high-frequency AC current, will allow Jackson to treat biosolid waste at a cost of several hundred thousand dollars compared to $1 million for more conventional applications. It will also result in a much lower energy cost, while expanding the capacity of the plant
“We have a system that will cost a couple hundred thousand dollars, has low energy costs and is simple to operate,” Schlager says. “We are aiming at the small end of the market – plants that treat below four million gallons a day.”
Not only does his system have the potential to cut in half the amount of time it takes to treat waste, but, it could eliminate the sludge byproduct altogether, he says. Another demonstration of Schlager’s technology is being installed at the Fox River Plant in Brookfield, which helps reduce biological oxygen demand by reducing organic solids.
When Schlager came to CTT’s offices in Madison, President Masood Akhtar and his associates were impressed enough with the technology that they offered Schlager an additional $25,000 in loans to help him protect his intellectual property.
“We think it’s important to protect your intellectual property,” Akhtar said. “If you don’t, you are looking for trouble down the road.”
CTT assists with start-ups like Bioelectromagnetics, and established Wisconsin industries, to create jobs for the long term and also retain jobs by identifying technologies that can help save money and make established industries more competitive. CTT is assisting three early stage companies at the present, and has identified more than 300 technologies where it can play a role in commercialization, Akhtar said. CTT has a loan program of $2 million, lending up to $250,000 per company, and takes a more active role than angel investors or venture capitalists.
“You might think of us pre-venture capital,” says Brent English, CTT’s grants program director. “Where venture capital wants to pick up on a technology or a company is where it’s getting close to commercialization. We get in as sort of a prepping a business for the venture capitalists. We are not going to be as hands-off as venture capital money would be, but, at the same time, we don’t want to run the company and we don’t want to develop their technology for them. It’s more a case of us helping identify a grant opportunity or identifying a specific business need.”
CTT is working to assist start-ups coming out of the University of Wisconsin-Madison with intellectual property management. CTT’s goal, Akhtar says, is not to duplicate efforts but to work in partnership with other state and federal organizations to capitalize on existing resources.
“The uniqueness of our center is the package that we have,” Akhtar says. “Here, when they [entrepreneurs] come to us, we have people who can review their technology. We also have people who can review their business plan. We identify your gaps and work with you.”
Grant writing assistance is a key focus of CTT, as last year, Wisconsin received just under $22 million in grants from federal programs such as SBIR and STTR. CTT helps educate entrepreneurs and others about all the funding possibilities, Akhtar says. They will also review draft proposals and can write the grants for them and provide matching funds.
“I think they have helped us,” Schlager says. “Time will tell, but I think they can be of help. Traditionally, people from Wisconsin are not very well trained in this area, as there is not a lot of background in this area. Before, when I had companies, I wouldn’t even bother to talk to people here for funding.”
John Rondy is a freelance writer based in Milwaukee. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.