There are innovators, and there are innovators who pave the way for other innovators. USF Connect is the latter.
It’s easy to think of universities as microcosms of thought whose impact is limited to academia itself. But through its support of local technology and bio-life startups, USF Connect is sharing the wealth—and to considerable ends.
Begun in 2001, USF Connect forms the lynchpin between three initiatives: the Tampa Bay Technology Incubator (TBTI); the USF Student Innovation Incubator (SII); and the Florida High Tech Corridor Council’s (The Corridor) Matching Grants Research Program. USF Connect provides new businesses access to everything from laboratories and scientific equipment to experienced mentors and networking events, not to mention every amenity available to USF faculty, staff, and students.
In 2017 alone, USF Connect aided 77 startups and accepted 25 others into the Student Innovation Incubator. Its economic impact on the Tampa Bay region for that year—23 counties in all—is estimated at $395 million.
The variety of companies under USF Connect’s umbrella is as impressive as the support it provides them. Take KeriCure, a line of all-natural wound-care products for humans and animals alike. Dr. Kerriann Greenhalgh, a USF alumna, created KeriCure after her husband-to-be nearly lost his hand to small but infected cut; the over-the-counter methods they’d tried failed them completely. Anyone who’s heard of liquid bandages has likely come across KeriCure.
Another company in the USF Connect incubator is Molekule, a revolutionary indoor-air filtration system first developed to mitigate inventor Dr. Yogi Gaswami’s son’s asthma. Existing HEPA filters only trap the largest of spores and impurities, and after becoming saturated, simply release many of these undesirable particles back into the air. Conversely, Molekule’s Photo Electrochemical Oxidation (PECO) technology targets and destroys pollutants 1,000 times smaller than traditional HEPA filters, and all it releases into the air is carbon dioxide, water, and trace elements.
In the same way that Molekule’s and KeriCure’s innovation lies in their pure and noninvasive solutions, so does NeuX use thoughtful technology to solve a common but serious problem—in this case, chronic pain. NeuX, a medical technology and health and wellness company, developed Interactive Neuromuscular Stimulation (INS) as a non-addictive, non-pharmaceutical, and non-invasive means of treating chronic pain of nearly any cause.
Says Valerie Landrio McDevitt, USF’s associate vice president for technology transfer and business partnerships: “Their [NeuX] goal to help people of all ages live a more active lifestyle, free of pain and injury through continued clinical studies and biomedical engineering research, is an easy mission to get behind.” But like a port upon the ocean, an incubator is not meant to house its occupants forever. And so, when companies like Agilis Biotherapeutics are scooped up by larger companies eager for the incubated ones’ technologies, it is a sure sign that USF Connect is fulfilling its mission.
Agilis Biotherapeutics developed a platform for gene therapy that targets AADC deficiency, Friedrich’s ataxia, and Angelman syndrome, each of which presents as a debilitating neurological disorder. Now, they have been acquired by PTC Therapeutics, an international powerhouse with a mission to treat patients with rare disorders.
“We…have had a very positive experience in the Incubator program and with USF,” said Mark Pykett, DVM, Ph.D., and President and Chief Executive Officer of Agilis Biotherapeutics. “The TBTI resources and people, along with funding opportunities like the Florida High Tech Corridor’s Matching Grant program, can help companies progress to the next level.”
Nomenclature like “incubator” or “accelerator” can make a layperson believe that an incubator or accelerator’s impact is simply beyond comprehension, that their work takes place on a level that is meaningless outside of the lab. But just a glance at the companies under USF Connect’s umbrella reveals that something they all—including USF Connect—have in common: they provide innovations that change people’s lives, for the better, every day.