Published November 27, 2017
Two UB startups have each won $50,000 in a statewide commercialization competition organized by FuzeHub, a nonprofit organization responsible for assisting small- to medium-sized manufacturing companies in New York State.
Ferric Contrast Inc., founded by UB chemistry professor Janet Morrow, and NanoHydroChem LLC, co-founded by UB chemical and biological engineering PhD candidate Parham Rohani and professor Mark Swihart, were among five winners in the event. The competition took place Nov. 15-16 in Albany, with participants delivering pitches before a live audience.
“FuzeHub is excited to announce these awards. This funding will help these companies advance their commercialization strategies, which was one of the major objectives of the competition,” FuzeHub Executive Director Elena Garuc said.
Both Ferric Contrast and NanoHydroChem plan to use the $50,000 prize money to further improve their technologies, which were originally developed at UB.
A third startup that is commercializing a UB technology, Sunny Clean Water LLC, did not win an award but was also among the competition’s 17 finalists.
The FuzeHub Commercialization Competition is supported by the Jeff Lawrence Manufacturing Innovation Fund, which supports activities designed to spur technology development and commercialization across New York State. FuzeHub administers this fund as part of its role as the Empire State Development-designated statewide Manufacturing Extension Partnership center.
Ferric Contrast is developing iron-based contrast agents that can be used to produce high-quality magnetic resonance images of the brain, vasculature, liver and kidneys, and for detection of tumors resulting from cancer.
The technology could offer an alternative to the gadolinium complexes that have traditionally been employed in magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), says Morrow. Recent studies have found that gadolinium can accumulate in the brain, bones and skin of patients, a discovery that has spurred scientists to search for new agents that do not build up in the body.
“There is a lot of potential for iron-based contrast agents to be a gadolinium alternative. Iron is natural — it’s found in hemoglobin, so it is in your blood,” says Morrow, who founded Ferric Contrast with businessman and entrepreneur Bradford La Salle. “Our contrast agents could be particularly useful for people who need multiple MRI exams, or for people who have poor kidney or heart function and have a difficult time clearing gadolinium from their systems.”
Ferric Contrast is designing a suite of contrast agents consisting of an iron ion housed inside an organic cage. The company has used these molecules to obtain clear images of organs, including the kidneys and brain tumors, in collaboration with Joseph Spernyak at Roswell Park Cancer Institute, and will leverage the FuzeHub prize money to create additional complexes that can be directed to different parts of the body for imaging.
NanoHydroChem is developing a method of creating hydrogen fuel on demand.
The company’s technique involves mixing specially designed boron nanoparticles with water at room temperature to generate hydrogen gas. Potential applications for this technology range from powering backup generators for remote cell phone towers to dramatically extending the run-time of underwater and aerial drones used in industrial applications like oil pipeline inspection.
The company will use the FuzeHub prize money on prototyping and researching alternative methods of producing boron nanoparticles that will lower the cost of large-scale manufacturing, says Swihart, executive director of UB’s New York State Center of Excellence in Materials Informatics.
“On-demand hydrogen generation is very safe because it eliminates the challenge of storing hydrogen in gas form. Also, there is no need for hydrogen infrastructure support. As long as you have water and the material cartridge, hydrogen gas can be generated,” says Rohani, who delivered the company’s pitch at the FuzeHub competition.
NanoHydroChem also won UB’s 2017 Henry A. Panasci Jr. Technology Entrepreneurship Competition for student entrepreneurs.