Think and Do

From the Lab to the MarketplaceThe path from promising idea to marketable product is an uncertain one. Along the way there are funding gaps – key points where financial support for technology development can have a decisive impact. Four years ago, NC State launched the Chancellor’s Innovation Fund (CIF) to fill those gaps for researchers who have salable ideas.

The results speak for themselves.

In four years, 23 projects have earned funding from the CIF. The $1.3 million invested in them has generated $4.2 million in follow-on funding and $460,000 in licensing revenue for the university, as well as launching six startup companies.

Each year, roughly 75 faculty members file CIF proposals. After initial screening, finalists pitch their technology development projects to a selection committee comprising representatives of university innovation partners: Eastman Chemical, Rex Healthcare, the Blackstone Entrepreneurs Network, First Flight Venture Center, HQ Raleigh, the Kenan Institute, NC Idea Fund Partners, Hatteras Venture Partners, the Center for Entrepreneurial Development and the North Carolina Small Business Technology Development Center.

Chancellor Randy Woodson makes the final selections, with input from NC State’s vice chancellor for research, innovation and economic development, Terri Lomax.

Proof-of-concept funds like the CIF are critical to supporting innovators, says Kelly B. Sexton, director of the Office of Technology Transfer. The presence of Research Triangle partners in the review process differentiates NC State’s fund from others.

“We’re working really hard to get the voice of the marketplace into the lab and make sure that the commitments we’re making through the CIF (are) based on validated market needs,” she said.

The 'Greatest Success to Date'

If you’re using one of the latest Samsung smartphones, software developed in NC State’s computer science department is probably securing it.

TrustZone-based Integrity Measurement Architecture, a system of embedded software/firmware components developed by Peng Ning and Ahmed Azab to improve security of computer clouds and mobile systems, is now part of Samsung’s Knox security and data management system.

Ning and Azab received CIF funding in 2012 to develop their software. They later launched a startup company, CellSentry Inc., to commercialize the technology. The team is developing further applications of the technology that may include products for cloud computing and the smart energy grid, Sexton said.

“This technology is by far the Chancellor’s Innovation Fund’s greatest success to date,” she said.

Software developed at NC State is part of the security package on Samsung phones.

Cleaner, More Efficient Car Engines

While many researchers focus on developing new technologies to replace fossil fuels, NC State engineering professors Tiegang Fang and Greg Buckner are working on a simple change to the geometry of spray fuel injectors that they believe will offer a double dose of improvement for an American economy that consumes 385 million gallons of gasoline a day.

Fang and Buckner’s work is one of six projects funded by the CIF in 2014. They’re developing a new injector that optimally adapts both the direction and the rate of fuel flow in an internal combustion engine and automatically changes the timing of when fuel is sprayed in the up-and-down cycle of a cylinder. They hope to increase engine efficiency by as much as 10 percent while also reducing emissions in a cleaner-burning engine.

Major car makers have shown interest in the first- and second-generation prototypes the researchers have made in their labs on Centennial Campus, but they would like to see a full working engine before they commit to installing something in an upcoming model. That’s the next step in the researchers’ goal of making your engine less prone to pit stops.

NC State researchers are developing a better fuel injector that would make cars more efficient.

Smarter Screening — For Jobs and Grad School

Two other CIF-funded projects have led to the launch of startups that aim to improve the hiring process for companies and the entire college journey for students.

Strategic Organizational Solutions LLC, founded by psychology professor Adam Meade, is applying a truism from Meade’s field to the job interview process: It takes longer to conceive a lie than to tell the truth.

Where existing employment tests gauge how well applicants answer questions about deadlines, teamwork and strengths, Meade’s application tracks how long candidates take to answer those questions. The software, PerSight, was developed using CIF funds awarded in 2012. Potential corporate clients are beta-testing it now, Sexton said.

The CIF allowed me to navigate failures and setbacks safely.

Anita Flick, director of NC State’s Health Professions Advising Center

Livitae is a CIF-funded software solution designed to make navigating the university experience easier and to make students more competitive for graduate school. Devised by Anita Flick, director of NC State’s Health Professions Advising Center, the software collects academic records, resumes and recommendations for college applicants. It also integrates course scheduling, advises students on degree requirements, tracks deadlines and loops in academic advisors to keep students on track. Intelligent Campus Solutions Inc., a recently launched startup company, is working to commercialize Livitae.

Intelligent Campus Solutions was among the more than 80 startups showcased at the Center for Entrepreneurial Development’s 2014 Tech Venture Conference. The company was also one of only two selected to participate in IBM’s SmartCamp, which boosts tech startups by connecting them with mentors, entrepreneurs and subject-matter experts.

“The support of CIF allowed me to navigate failures and setbacks safely, and it challenged me positively in many ways,” Flick said. “The final result of the project and business planning includes capabilities that I never would have thought of incorporating, and it far exceeds my original expectations.”