UT expands energy incubators to attract new business startupsWritten by Duane Ramsey | | email@example.com
The University of Toledo is expanding its incubator facilities to help generate more business, new companies and jobs, thus contributing to the economic development of the entire Northwest Ohio region.
Eight tenants and three graduates of two UT incubator facilities have accounted for 72 new jobs and $4.7 million in payroll while seeking 27 additional employees. Those figures are double the numbers from 18 months ago, UT officials say.
“By assisting startup businesses, we’re giving the local economy a boost, which falls in line perfectly with the university’s strategic plan to be a leader in economic development in Northwest Ohio,” said Megan Reichert, director of the Clean and Alternative Energy Incubator on UT’s main campus.
The university is currently creating more incubator space with a 17,000-square-foot expansion of the Clean and Alternative Energy Incubator at a cost of $2.2 million. The expansion is due for completion later this summer, Reichert said.
A second facility, an Information Technology Incubator, is located on the UT Health Science Campus. Another business incubator that will focus on the biomedical industry is expected to open on the Health Science Campus within the next six months.
A new facility for mixed-technology incubation will be built next to the Clean and Alternative Energy Incubator. Reichert said ground is expected to be broken this summer for the new incubator that is scheduled to open in summer 2009.
“We’ve had companies want to locate here in the past, and the area hasn’t had the infrastructure these companies were looking for. Now, we’re really ramping up to meet those needs,” Reichert said.
The university’s incubators provide facilities where entrepreneurs can develop and grow self-sufficient, successful companies with business assistance, competitive rents and support in identifying the local, state and federal resources that are available to them.
The incubators provide things such as office space to help with business and marketing plans through the College of Business Administration and other regional partners. This assistance helps companies become competitive more quickly than if they were developing on their own, Reichert said.
“Our goal is not to give companies a handout but to give them a hand up,” she said. “We equip them to take advantage of opportunities in the marketplace.”
Xunlight, Calyxo and Innovative Thin Films are all graduates of UT incubators that are doing just that, Reichert said.
Suganit Systems is a current tenant hoping to follow their leads. The startup company, involved in the research and development of ethanol from biomass conducted at UT, is relocating from Virginia.
“UT officials are interested in moving this field forward. The university is conducting exceptionally good research in this area, and the cooperation from faculty members has been impressive,” said Praveen Paripati, president of Suganit Systems.
Suganit Systems and UT received a $250,000 grant from the state of Ohio’s Third Frontier Commission to further research and develop biofuels at the energy incubator.
The company hired a recent UT doctoral graduate full time and funds positions for three or four graduate research assistants each semester.
“The technology is progressing very well as we continue testing the initial scale-up of systems to produce it,” Paripati said. “We’re looking at the region to see if it can supply enough cellulose stock to support the business.”
The Third Frontier’s Advanced Energy Program provides funding for commercializing new fuel products, manufacturing processes or production system improvements for delivering these advanced energy technologies to market.
The expanded space at the energy incubator will include six physics laboratories with more lab space and offices to support another major tenant, the Wright Center for Photovoltaic Innovation and Commercialization (PVIC) and spinoff companies anticipated from its research.
Robert Collins, UT physics professor, is the principal investigator for the PVIC research project funded by an $18.6 million grant from the Ohio Department of Development. An additional $30 million in matching contributions from federal agencies, universities and industrial partners needs to be raised to allow the program to be self-sustaining in the future, he said.
Norman Stevens was recently hired as co-director of the Wright Center for PVIC to coordinate the grant project and raise the matching funds. He has 30 years of experience in alternative energy, environmental licensing and power-plant site work for utility companies, including DTE Energy in Detroit.
“Norm brings great credentials from the utility industry and fills a niche in PVIC that we didn’t address in the grant proposal: that is to develop a utility-scale photovoltaic product and a market for it,” Collins said. “Now is the time to develop opportunities with utility companies who will be required to use more renewable energy in the near future.”
Stevens served eight years on the board of directors for the Great Lakes Renewable Energy Association based outside Lansing, Mich., and on six committees of the Michigan Renewable Energy Program Collaborative.
Other current incubator clients include Advanced Distributed Generation, Platform Labs, Ugly Data, Recombinant Innovation, H2 Engine Systems and Sdudi.
H2 Engine Systems is developing methods for hydrogen infusion with renewable fuels such as biodiesel used to power buses in collaboration with TARTA and the Intermodal Transportation Institute.
John Everton, president of the firm, said the company has been running a bus for 18 months and is seeing up to a 15 percent improvement in fuel economy when hydrogen is used with biodiesel and ethanol.
The Clean and Alternative Energy Incubator is also home to the Intermodal Transportation Institute, Green Energy Ohio’s Northwest Ohio office and the university Clean Energy Alliance of Ohio, a statewide consortium hosted by UT.
PHOTO: Robert W. Collins, Megan Reichert, Norman J. Stevens and Collen Lachapelle examine blueprints at the UT clean and alternative energy incubator. The university is expanding the facility at a cost of $2.2 million. — Photo by Duane Ramsey