Purdue University impacting lives: successfully delivering innovations to the public

This feature was originally published June 6 on GlobeNewswire.

Universities impact lives in their local communities through the success of their alumni, by hosting educational and artistic events, and in employing residents.

They can impact lives around the world by commercializing intellectual property (IP) discovered and developed by university faculty and staff; IP consists of creations of the mind like inventions, artistic work, designs or symbols.

Purdue University IP makes the world a better place when it reaches the public, and strategically helping the public is part of the mission of land-grant universities like Purdue. Commercialization occurs when IP is licensed either to an already established company or to a startup launched specifically to bring that innovation to the market.

Managing Purdue University innovations — vetting them to determine their impact, applying for federal and international protection, marketing and licensing them — is the responsibility of the Purdue Research Foundation, a private, non-profit foundation.

Purdue Innovation Excellence: OTC and Foundry Metrics

Brooke Beier (Purdue University photo/Mark Simons)

Brooke Beier is senior vice president of commercialization at the Purdue Research Foundation. She leads the Office of Technology Commercialization, whose experts receive invention disclosures from faculty, vet the inventions to determine their market impact, apply to protect the IP and license it to companies around the world.

Beier also oversees the Purdue Foundry, an entrepreneurship and commercialization hub whose professionals work with Purdue innovators to create and scale startups.

“PRF and Purdue leadership truly care about making sure Purdue discoveries positively impact society. OTC and the Foundry are thrilled to be able to support that mission,” Beier said. “Purdue faculty have been exceptional in disclosing their innovations, and our dedicated personnel have set year-over-year records in licensing innovations.”

In the eight years between fiscal year 2014 and fiscal year 2021, Purdue faculty have disclosed more than 2,800 innovations to OTC. During that time, more than 4,500 U.S. and international patent applications were filed to protect Purdue IP; OTC received more than 1,500 U.S. and international patents on those innovations. OTC’s website includes a public-facing list of innovations across more than a dozen categories available for licensing.

Over the past four years, OTC personnel documented year-over-year record high levels for licenses and options signed to companies. For the past eight years, more than 1,100 licenses and options were executed, covering more than 1,600 technologies.

Since the Purdue Foundry was launched in 2013, more than 175 companies founded from Purdue IP launched across several sectors, including energy, pharmaceuticals, agriculture, life sciences and information technology/Internet of Things. Those companies have generated $255 million in funding from investments, grants and other sources; they also have developed relationships with customers around the world.

The Purdue Foundry also makes strategic investments in startups within its ecosystem, with a primary focus on startups that feature Purdue IP and a Purdue lineage. Since it was formed, the Purdue Foundry has invested more than $10 million through four investment funds it manages: Ag-Celerator, Elevate Purdue Foundry Fund, Foundry Investment Fund and Purdue Startup Fund.

“These licensed technologies are impacting industrial sectors like aeronautics, agriculture, biomedical engineering, computer technology, education, electrical engineering, food and nutrition, medical and health, micro- and nanotechnologies, pharmaceuticals and veterinary,” Beier said. “While we are thankful for the revenue that licensing agreements return to PRF and the university, we are glad that these discoveries are put to use and improving lives around the world through new entrepreneurs, serial entrepreneurs and established companies alike.”

The Assistive Technology Engineer: Brad Duerstock

Brad Duerstock, center

Brad Duerstock is CEO of Prehensile Technologies, which he launched in 2014. The company develops the RoboTable overbed table, the RoboDesk and custom assistive technology solutions to increase independence and quality of life for people with disabilities.

Duerstock also is a professor of engineering practice in the Weldon School of Biomedical Engineering and School of Industrial Engineering at Purdue University. He holds courtesy appointments in the Department of Basic Medical Sciences in the College of Veterinary Medicine and the Department of Health and Kinesiology in the College of Health and Human Sciences.

Duerstock is motivated to make a difference for people who can benefit from assistive technology.

“Approximately 20% of the population has some type of disability that can lead to mobility, sensory, cognitive or psychological impairments, which may be improved by some type of assistive technology,” he said. “However, the individual impact of such assistance for independently or more efficiently accomplishing an activity of daily living or a specific task is immeasurable. A singular piece of assistive technology can make the difference in one’s ability to be employed, to live at home, or to maintain self-dignity.”

The assistive technology industry is relatively small, Duerstock said. Most companies operating in that sector focus on developing and selling devices they created.

“There are not many opportunities to go to a company that even has similar target consumers and say, ‘Would you be interested in licensing this new technology and further commercializing it as a product?’” Duerstock said. “Even large companies that may be interested in acquiring new products are pretty risk averse and really want something that has been first proven in the marketplace.”

The lack of opportunities coupled with Duerstock’s desire to impact people’s lives led to commercializing his patented IP and launching Prehensile Technologies. The Office of Technology Commercialization worked with Duerstock and his team during the patent application process and with licensing the technologies. The Foundry worked with his team to write a business plan.

“Of course, when I first thought about commercializing some of our research, it started with a conversation with OTC about patent protection,” he said. “But I soon realized that if I really wanted our inventions to get into the hands of those who would benefit from their use, then that would be a whole other conversation.

“The Foundry has been instrumental for me in learning the business side of things. At the beginning, I didn’t even know the language used in the business world. In addition to learning about entrepreneurship, the Foundry helped us get in touch with local accountants, law firms and payroll agencies, which was invaluable in establishing our company.”

Duerstock said Prehensile Technologies has benefited from Purdue’s vast entrepreneurial network and resources by participating in I-Corps and student business competitions. Duerstock himself participated in an experiential learning entrepreneurial boot camp hosted by the Foundry. Additionally, some of his students have opted to take entrepreneurial-focused classes at the university.

Duerstock said success ultimately will be measured by users being able to access the innovative assistive technologies, whether it’s through Prehensile Technologies or other channels like sublicensing the technology or open-source resources. Founding the company, however, has led to additional opportunities.

“Launching Prehensile Technologies has allowed us to further develop our inventions, which has led to subsequent patents and the ability to apply for Small Business Innovation Research, Small Business Technology Transfer and U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs grants,” he said. “If we simply licensed our technologies to other entities, we may not have had the opportunities for further research and development of existing and affiliated products.

“As a startup company, we are able to explore the market and, in some cases, have found we need to pivot our initial business strategy based on a more informed understanding of our consumers’ needs and wants.”

Along with commercializing its innovative assistive technologies like the RoboTable and RoboDesk, Prehensile Technologies recently participated as a member of the EASI RIDER team in a U.S. Department of Transportation inclusive design competition. Duerstock said the company, whose president and chief technology officer is Dr. Jeffrey Ackerman, brought its experience designing technologies for people with disabilities and technical expertise in assistive technology prototyping.

“This design competition made us realize that Prehensile can also provide a service in creating accessible interfaces for a wide range of systems within transportation, health care, home and other environments,” Duerstock said. “This significantly broadens our outreach through greater engagement with the disabled community and other industry partners. Grand societal challenges in inaccessibility and, thus, promoting greater inclusion of people with disabilities will not be solved by an individual piece of assistive technology or organization. There needs to be collaboration between several stakeholders with different assets in order to solve these big problems, whether it is autonomous transportation, aging in place, equitable health care, etc.”

The Serial Entrepreneur: Philip Low

Philip Low (Purdue University photo/John Underwood)

Philip Low is the Presidential Scholar for Drug Discovery and Ralph C. Corley Distinguished Professor of Chemistry — Biochemistry in Purdue University’s Department of Chemistry. He also may be the most prolific and most successful entrepreneur to license Purdue University IP.

Working with the Purdue Research Foundation Office of Technology Commercialization, Low has received hundreds of U.S. patents on his research, all of them within the biotechnology and pharmaceutical sectors. He has founded seven startup companies and remains involved in running six of them.

“I’ve been very pleased with my interactions with OTC, which feels like part of my team rather than a distant partner,” Low said. “They have been essential in the writing and submission of our patents and have been instrumental in helping me start companies based on our technologies. They have also been very helpful in licensing our innovations back into my companies when desired.”

In alphabetical order, here are the seven companies Low started, the focus of their innovation, their most recent news and Low’s current roles with them.

Low’s interest in launching startups is mainly motivated by the need to raise the funds required to take his drug to a significant proof of concept and attract industry attention in licensing it.

“It’s difficult to get a drug company to run with your discoveries if you haven’t at least demonstrated a proof of concept. Unless you have documented your discoveries in real people with real health problems, it’s not easy to attract investors’ attention,” Low said.

“This is the Valley of Death for biotech. It costs a lot of money to bring a drug to a proof of principle in patients, but you can’t elicit much interest until you do. How do you raise the $100 million to $200 million required to develop a drug to the point that it looks like it’s going to work in humans? You have to start a company, raise money and then bring in venture capitalists and even institutional investors to fund the studies required to demonstrate its efficacy and safety in human patients.

“Once you’re successful with one company, it becomes less problematic to raise money for the next, and if you’re successful there, then the next is even easier. But right now, nothing is easy in this financial market. The biotech market is below half of what it was a year ago. It’s an awful time to try to raise money. However, launching a company is my only way to make sure my discoveries have a chance to help mankind.”

Low said the objective to working with the Office of Technology Commercialization — applying for IP protection, launching startup companies, licensing innovations — is sending Purdue innovations to the public to do good.

“We’ve been very successful in doing that,” he said.