September 1, 2011

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Spin Cycle

Utah’s Research Universities are Churning out Exciting Technology

Marie Mischel

September 1, 2011

From renewable energy sources to the latest in entertainment technology, Utah’s universities have a plethora of interesting research spinning out of their laboratories. The potential for profit has attracted entrepreneurs who are interested in turning that technology into marketable products. Here are nine notable companies in various stages, from those developing product prototypes to those with a firm market presence, all based on technology from Utah’s research institutions: the University of Utah, Brigham Young University and Utah State University.

Two years ago, Justin Strong approached Mike Alder, director of BYU’s Technology Transfer Office, asking if there was a particularly exciting technology to be marketed. Alder pointed him to Dan Olsen, the architect of wireless pixels, and shortly afterward Pixelture was born. The software allows a group of people working on individual computers to display their content in a shared space.

“What makes the technology particularly innovative isn’t the fact that it’s purely wireless, it’s the fact that it’s collaborative,” says Strong, the company’s founder and CEO.

The technology won a Grow Utah Venture award in 2010, which allowed “us to have conversations with everybody from attorneys to financiers to players in technology,” Strong says. “Those relationships, more than anything else, helped us move forward to a point where we’re really getting traction.” The product now is in beta testing at universities, with more than 100 universities showing interest, Strong says.

Moxtek could be a poster child for the success of BYU’s technology development department. Twenty-five years ago, Moxtek licensed X-ray technology from BYU. Building on that technology, the company added an optics category that took off rapidly because of its applications in high-end televisions. The company’s ProFlux polarizer won the 2002 Silver Award from the Society for Information Display. Two years later, Moxtek was acquired by Polatechno, a Japanese company that left Moxtek in Orem, where it continues to expand.

New optics products have found applications in 3D projections. “Most of the 3D movies use a display technology that has our optics in it,” says Ray West, director of business development for Moxtek.

The company’s revenue is split fairly evenly between the optics and X-ray technology categories, West says. This year, annual revenue is expected to reach $60 million. West credits the company’s success to the “great technology” developed at BYU, which Moxtek used as a foundation to move into other areas.

Crocker Spinal Technologies, Inc.
Several offerings from BYU’s technology department have attracted the attention of Gary Crocker, president of Crocker Ventures, LLC, a private investment firm specializing in the life science field. Crocker Spinal Technologies has developed two products already, although they are not yet in human trials. Both products, developed from BYU research, are designed to help people suffering from spinal degeneration.

Crocker is chairman of the company; the president is David Hawkes, who previously was involved with three companies specializing in spinal devices.

Hawkes, a BYU alumnus, is emblematic of the kind of entrepreneurs who are interested in developing university research. “We do on occasion have people call us, especially alumni, and say, ‘I’d like to do my next thing, do you have some technology I can look at?’” explains Alder.

Catheter Connections
The idea for Catheter Connections came two years ago from a pair of nurses working at the Salt Lake City VA Medical Center. The idea was to develop a product that disinfects both ends of catheter IV tubing to prevent infections.

In 2008, many insurance companies stopped reimbursing for catheter-related infections in the belief that they should never happen, so the idea for Catheter Connections’ DualCap product was very timely, says Vicki E. Farrar, CEO and co-founder. Although the idea was good, and the product simple, “it required a lot of really, really good engineering” to get it to the point where it’s now on the market with a patent pending, she says.

The U’s Robert Hitchcock is the company’s vice president of product development, as well as one of the four co-founders; the university also provides office space and a clean room, Farrar says.

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