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College of Engineering News

Early-stage startups awarded FastPass funding to scale innovations

Extrave Bioscience and Lignolix have been named as winners of the 2019 University of Delaware FastPass competition. This program, run by the Delaware Innovation Space, will award both startups with an equity-free package providing operational, technical, business development and financial support valued at $50,000.

“The breadth and depth of startup company applications for the FastPass competition continues to grow at an impressive rate,” said Bill Provine, CEO for the Delaware Innovation Space. “This year we are excited to award a FastPass to two promising early stage University of Delaware spin-outs — Extrave Bioscience and Lignolix.”

Both companies grew out of UD research and are licensing UD-developed technology.

“It’s always exciting to see new ideas get their start at UD and then blossom into innovative and marketable businesses,” said UD President Dennis Assanis. “Congratulations to Extrave and Lignolix, which represent how UD is combining our amazing intellectual capital with cutting-edge technologies and an entrepreneurial spirit. This is another example of why UD is becoming known as a leader in entrepreneurship.”

Princeton Review and Entrepreneurship magazine recently ranked UD as 38th in a listing of the best universities in the nation for entrepreneurial studies.

Founded by Matthew Hudson, an assistant professor in UD’s College of Health Sciences, Extrave BioScience developed technology that has the potential to reverse the pathology in muscular dystrophy, a genetic disorder marked by progressive muscle degeneration and weakness, by delivering and restoring full-size dystrophin throughout the body.

“Coming from an academic environment, I took for granted all of the support available at a university, including incredible facilities, resources and programs, many of which people probably do not think or know about,” said Hudson. “On the startup side, these resources are not available — it is like starting from scratch. The FastPass award provides not only facilities but also a variety of resources that help with many aspects of running a startup, such as infrastructure and equipment.”

Lignolix, a start-up company founded by Thomas H. Epps, III, the Thomas and Kipp Gutshall Professor of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at UD, focuses on sustainably making materials from renewable biomass, such as lignin, a major component of trees and plants that paper manufacturers typically throw away.

According to Epps, the technology developed by the Lignolix team is uniquely scalable and unlocking the value of lignin will have a sizeable economic and environmental impact. “Our long-term vision is to enable the sustainable chemicals industry to reach its full potential,” said Epps.

Resources are critical to make this happen, added Eric R. Gottlieb, CEO and co-founder of Lignolix and a post-doctoral research in UD’s Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering.

“When building a company with significant infrastructure requirements and complex, multi-sided business relationships, programs like the FastPass provide the resources for startups to effectively overcome those barriers and build momentum,” Gottlieb said. “We will now have the critical infrastructure we need to more effectively push our technologies to commercialization and drive our customer relationships forward.”

As part of the award, Extrave Bioscience and Lignolix will receive up to one-year free membership at Delaware Innovation Space, which includes:

  • Turnkey wet laboratory and office spaces
  • Access to a wide range of high-end chemistry and biotechnology scientific equipment
  • A $5,000 credit to be used in the on-site stockroom
  • Customized strategic business development, technical and fundraising programming based upon each startup’s needs

“We are excited to see two more UD start-ups land at the Delaware Innovation Space at a critical time in their commercialization journey,” said Charlie Riordan, UD vice president of research, scholarship and innovation. “Access to state-of-the-art laboratory space and experienced entrepreneurs will be invaluable as they seek to further develop and scale-up their promising technologies.”

Since winning the inaugural UD FastPass competition in 2018, for example, W7energy has tripled in size and secured $4.5 million in funding to begin commercializing the company’s polymer-membrane technologies while residing at Delaware Innovation Space.

“The University’s continued support for programs like the FastPass allows the Delaware startup ecosystem to continue to thrive, positively impacting the local community and bolstering Delaware’s reputation as a hub for innovation,” said Robert O’Dea, Lignolix co-founder. “Bringing technologies out of the academic lab can be challenging, and we are excited to be surrounded by other startups with similar goals. We hope to learn from their experiences and to pay it forward by sharing our experiences with others.”

About Delaware Innovation Space

The Delaware Innovation Space is an innovation ecosystem helping science entrepreneurs go from start-up to scale-up by accelerating their businesses models while concurrently incubating their core technologies. The public-private partnership created and developed by the state of Delaware, DuPont and the University of Delaware focuses on addressing today’s societal challenges spanning advanced materials, chemical ingredients, renewable energy, nutrition and healthcare.

Adapted with permission from Delaware Innovation Space | Photo by Maria Errico