MSU Highlights New Campus-Born Technologies, Names Conquer Cohort

Michigan State University hosted an event last Thursday highlighting its most promising innovations, inventors, and spin-out startups, as well as the first cohort for its new Conquer Accelerator.

Charlie Hasemann, the university’s assistant vice president for innovation and economic development and director of MSU’s Innovation Center, emphasized the highlighted technologies’ impact on the community at large.

“These prolific inventors and thinkers are creating technologies that will improve the way people live and create a better quality of life,” he said in a press release. “The Innovation Center is here to provide resources and make it possible for MSU faculty and students to continue on the path of creativity.”

MSU has a long history of cutting-edge research and advances in agricultural science, so it’s no surprise that the university named the work being done by geological sciences professor Bruno Basso as its “Innovation of the Year.” Basso has developed algorithms and software that predict the impact of soil conditions, weather, and management practices on crop yield based on a plant’s physiology. Basso’s goal is to improve decision-making and return on investment for everyone from small family farmers to commercial agriculture operations.

“Innovator of the Year” honors went to Gemma Reguera, associate professor in the department of microbiology and molecular genetics, who has developed a system to extract bioproducts from waste using microbial electrochemical reactors, which has the potential to generate renewable energy and help break down radioactive and toxic metals.

Jes Asmussen, an electrical and computer engineering professor who holds almost 50 patents, scored the MSU Technology Transfer Achievement Award for his work on microwave plasma machines and processes to produce synthetic diamonds.

The Innovation Celebration also showcased a range of technologies incubated at the university, including drugs that fight neuroblastomas, which are responsible for causing 15 percent of all childhood cancer deaths; improved varieties of Stevia, a sugar substitute; a process to genetically engineer poplar trees to make them easier to break down for biofuels; an anti-knock engine system; and glass composites.

A handful of MSU student startups were also on hand at the event to demonstrate their innovations as part of the announcement of the Conquer Accelerator’s inaugural cohort. The program offers a comprehensive, 10-week development program beginning in May. Conquer is open to any business—even non-tech startups—seeking to overcome obstacles to commercialization and willing to undergo an intense mentorship and customer discovery process. There is no MSU affiliation required.

Five of the six teams will be provided with $20,000 each in funding, and all six will receive mentorship, work space, support, and resources in exchange for 5 percent equity. Here’s a bit more about each startup participating in this summer’s Conquer program:

Golfler: In an interview last fall, co-founder Jason Pearsall told Xconomy his company’s app solves a problem for both its users (golfers) and its customers (golf courses)—how can golfers deep into playing an 18-hole round order food and beverages if they don’t want to interrupt play and head to the clubhouse? Users of Golfler’s app can pull up a food and drink menu, place an order, and send up a GPS-enabled beacon that allows a delivery person to find them out on the course. The app also features a rangefinder to measure the ball’s distance from the pin, the ability to keep score, weather updates, and a two-way messaging system to communicate with the pro shop when the course is experiencing a bottleneck.

Protection by TechTwurl: When we last checked in with serial entrepreneur Usman Majeed, in 2012, he was a sophomore at MSU buying and reselling used smartphones out of his dorm room. Now, he’s expanded operations with Protection, which offers affordable, same-day, local device repair.

Conecter: Another MSU student startup, the Conecter app allows students to search for and create events they want to do with other students, helping them connect to others with similar interests.

Artificially Intelligent Machineshop: AIM is a next-generation machine shop that uses automation and robots to dramatically reduce the fabrication time of manufacturing equipment.

AerBots: Founded by MSU student Mario Swaidan, AerBots makes fully customizable plug-and-play kits with interchangeable components that turns drone-building into a family affair.

The York Project: The York Project, an MSU student startup that began as a basement project in 2013, is a retail fashion design company with a cause. For every product sold, an article of clothing is donated to a homeless man or woman. The York Project has so far assisted more than 10,000 people in need across the country, and the company plans to begin employing some of the people it has helped by 2020.

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