Drexel Ventures Selects Inaugural Proof-of-Concept Projects

Jonathan Spanier, PhD, is one of four researchers who are receiving proof-of-concept funding for their research from Drexel Ventures. Spanier is developing new materials for solar energy technology.

In its first round of proof-of-concept funding, Drexel Ventures -the University’s new technology accelerator and transfer enterprise- is supporting research that could lead to improved solar cells, new drug therapy for treatment of Parkinson’s Disease, safer chemicals for oil extraction and smarter software system monitoring. Investigators for each project will receive $100,000, from Drexel’s Innovation Fund to show that their research could lead to the creation of a commercially viable product.

“These four promising ventures were selected from a very competitive group of submissions from across the University,” said Keith Orris, senior vice president for corporate relations and economic development. “We believe they all have the potential to make a significant impact within their respective markets and throughout society once they are developed and commercialized.”

Jonathan Spanier, PhD, a professor in the College of Engineering, is developing thin-film photovoltaic materials that could ultimately improve the performance of existing solar energy technology. The thin films use non-toxic, abundant elements and, as a result, would be about 85-90 percent cheaper to produce than current solar cells. Test results also indicate that they have the potential to be significantly more efficient at converting solar radiation into electrical energy than the solar technology on the market today.

A project led by College of Medicine researcher Sandhya Kortagere, MD, is investigating a new drug therapy for the treatment of Parkinson’s disease. Her goal is to produce a drug that is at least as effective as current options but without side effects. The degenerative neurological disorder afflicts approximately seven million people worldwide, one million of them in the United States.

In the A. J. Drexel Plasma Institute, Alex Fridman, PhD, and Alex Rabinovich, PhD, are using plasma technology to create an acidic substance that can be used to extract oil from the ground without harming the environment. Their “plasma acid” will be able to dissolve stone to speed the process of oil extraction. Its remnants will then revert to water and oxygen, rather than the harmful acid residue left by current extraction chemicals.

The fourth project to receive funding is a software monitoring system that periodically checks to make sure all components of the software are interacting properly with each other. Yuanfang Cai, PhD, an associate professor in the College of Computing & Informatics, is developing the system with the goal of ensuring the stability and integrity of programs as they are initially developed and then change over time.

“These technologies are representative of the many research strengths of Drexel’s world-class faculty and students,” said Deb Crawford, PhD, Drexel’s senior vice provost for research. “We are deeply committed to ensuring that our research results make their way into valuable products and services.”

During the course of these year-long projects, each research team will perform development work that is designed to both demonstrate the capabilities of the technologies and also reduce the technological risk for potential licensees.  Teams will work with Drexel Ventures staff to develop a commercialization plan and engage potential investors, entrepreneurs and corporate partners to facilitate licensing or the launch of new ventures. Future proof-of-concept awards from the Innovation Fund will be made annually.

Drexel Ventures, which launched during the summer of 2013, provides innovation funding and commercialization services with the goal of spurring scientific and technological advances motivated by real-world needs. In supporting this vision, Drexel recently announced a partnership with the University Science Center to create the Innovation Hub at 3401 Market St., a technology incubator and accelerator that will also house the global headquarters of DreamIt Ventures.  

Together, the Innovation Hub and Innovation Fund proof-of-concept investments support Drexel’s economic development goals by making it easier for researchers to enter into partnerships with the private sector and guiding the transition of their work to the marketplace.