State Awards Program Aims to Hasten Technologies’ Journey From Lab to Market

Ten researchers at seven Massachusetts universities and research institutions—working in such areas as biotechnology, medicine, nanotech, and clean energy—are the latest beneficiaries of a state-funded program to prod new technologies along the path to commercialization. These recipients of the Fall 2007 Technology Investigation Awards from the Massachusetts Technology Transfer Center, announced yesterday, will receive $40,000 apiece. One of the awards was given posthumously to famed Children’s Hospital Boston cancer researcher Judah Folkman, and will be taken over by his research collaborator.

The MTTC award program was launched in mid-2005 by the center’s founding (and current) director Abigail Barrow (an Xconomist). Barrow says that when her office got going in that year with state funding, “the first thing we decided was we were going to give most of it away to really pull the technologies out of the institutions.” So the center crafted the awards program, which is open to researchers at any research institution in the state, to focus in on the research projects most likely to lead to commercialization. Barrow says that the awards are given twice a year, rather than annually, because “if you’ve got an investigation that you’re drying to get out of the lab, a year’s a long time to wait.”

The catch, if there is one, is that the technology or research involved has “got to be pre-transfer,” Barrow says. “It’s before a startup company has been founded.” The idea is that the award money should be used to help validate a technology before it is licensed, or to improve the technological base of a nascent company before the firm is funded. In short, the awards are designed to help get ideas out the door faster and in better shape–and it’s only now, two years into the program, that Barrow expects to start seeing the early grants bear fruit.

A January 2006 award to Boston College researcher Kris Kempa, for instance, helped lead to a spin-off called Solasta. The firm, based in Newton, MA, is working on ultra-high-efficiency solar cells. Barrow says her office worked with Kempa and the company to develop its plans; Solasta also won a second place award at the 2006 Ignite Clean Energy Contest.

The MTTC will launch its next solicitation for the awards program this spring, and will likely announce the winners in early summer. In the meantime, you’ll likely be able to find Barrow on Beacon Hill; the MTTC director says she is actively seeking funding from the state that will be necessary to continue the program after that.

Here are the latest award winners, whose projects were chosen from among some 75 proposals from 24 … Next Page »

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