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Life-saving Companies are Among 23 Started This Year Through U of U Research

July 16, 2009-The 2009 fiscal year-end results for the generation of new businesses prove what many economists have long claimed, that the University of Utah (the U of U) is an economic engine for the state of Utah. Twenty-three companies were created from technologies developed at the university within the last fiscal year. These companies, which include the first startup company for the state’s Utah Science Technology and Research initiative (USTAR), not only help move research forward through the licensing revenue they bring in, but they also provide jobs for the people of Utah and help strengthen the economy in the state.

“The fact that the university is performing so well in a down economy illustrates the strength of the model being developed at the University of Utah,” said Brian Cummings, assistant vice president in charge of the Technology Commercialization Office (TCO). “The success is due to the alignment of the stakeholders that are so actively involved in the commercialization process.”

This year’s startup companies include a variety of life-saving therapeutics, clean energy systems, breakthrough medical devices and software that aims to solve complex issues from animation and imaging to eliminating texting while driving.

At any given time, about 10 percent of teenagers who are driving are talking or texting. Studies show drivers using cell phones are about four times more likely to get in a crash than other motorists. This is according to “Key2SafeDriving” co-inventor Xuesong Zhou, an assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering who co-invented the key with Dr. Wally Curry. Together, Curry and Zhou have developed a user-friendly, profile-driven key system that limits cell phone use while driving. The device makes it so that drivers can’t talk or text while driving, unless they need to make an emergency 911 call. Only a year ago, the technology was a simple idea in the head of a worried father. The Key2SafeDriving is a prime example about how, with the right collaboration and the right, experienced entrepreneur a simple idea can be converted to a commercial product in a very short timeframe. Accendo has licensed the technology and funded the startup, Safe Driving Systems, to develop the product and take it to market.

The year’s metrics suggest that investment in the Utah Science Technology and Research initiative (USTAR) is paying off for Utah. In February it was announced that the U of U and Headwaters, Incorporated entered into a joint venture called Headwaters Clean Carbon Services. The new venture will offer carbon management services-from carbon storage engineering to risk and liability management-to carbon dioxide-emitting companies. While global concerns about the effects of carbon dioxide emissions are reaching a tipping point, many experts believe storage of the greenhouse gas is one of the best ways to significantly decrease emissions without adversely impacting our standard of living. The University of Utah launched two USTAR companies in fiscal year 2009, including Headwaters Clean Carbon Services and TheraTarget.

Marrek, Inc., another one of this year’s startup companies, was created to meet the large and growing demand for technologies to guide the treatment of an abnormal heart rhythm known as atrial fibrillation. The company’s objective is to automate and package guidance systems for installation in hospitals around the world, in addition to offering patient assessment as a remote service. More than 14 million Americans experience abnormal heart rhythms, and in 4-5 million of these people this arrhythmia is atrial fibrillation, which is characterized by an irregular and usually very rapid heartbeat. An interdisciplinary team of physicians and medical imaging experts led by U of U cardiac electrophysiologist Nassir Marrouche, M.D., is developing techniques based on magnetic resonance imaging that can characterize the stage of disease in patients with atrial fibrillation and guide the physician in selecting viable treatment – or retreatment – options such as catheter ablation.

“The University of Utah’s innovative culture continues to bring new technologies and ideas to enhance Utah’s economy,” said University of Utah Vice President of Technology Venture Development, Jack Brittain. “The fact that this university is a nationwide leader in startup company creation is a great credit to the people involved and their ability to engage both the business and financial communities throughout the state.”

The University of Utah Companies Announced for 2009

  • BlackRock is a new entity that provides enabling tools for the neuroscience, neural engineering and neuroprosthetics research and clinical community worldwide.

  • Branching Tree is developing drug delivery products using injectable thermogels.

  • Energence Partners is a new energy and environmental company that accelerates the selection and implementation of breakthrough technologies.

  • Ergonomic Tool Development manufactures a tool for loosening metal rods to check for natural gas leaks or other pipeline problems.

  • H20 Tech is developing a new process of wastewater clean-up using electro-biochemical technology.

  • Headwaters Clean Carbon Services is a joint venture between the University of Utah and Headwaters, Incorporated that is focused on developing carbon capture and storage projects and developing carbon-neutral power plants.

  • HiFunda is a technology company that aims to use magnetostrictive materials to generate electricity from ocean waves.

  • Honde is a Chinese joint venture that created the Utah-Wuxi Taihi Institute of Environmental Research (UTIER) to focus on remediation of lakes and waterways in China.

  • Integratech hopes to develop a new screening system for the development of new drugs against HIV.

  • JSK Therapeutics is developing novel anti-cancer drugs using an approved compound to inhibit the growth of cancer cells, a paradigm shift in cancer therapy.

  • Safe Driving Systems is commercializing a cost-effective device, Key2Safe Driving, that automatically restricts texting and cell phone usage while driving. For more information visit

  • Marrek is developing novel algorithms for post-ablation monitoring and tracking of lesions.

  • Miriacotech is commercializing a soil remediation technology and is currently developing a prototype system.

  • Nanomedic is developing technology for diagnosis and treatment of age-related diseases such as Alzheimer’s, osteoporosis and cancer.

  • Optema’s technology will allow industries such as the construction sector to shift away from labor intensive onsite assembly of structures to an automated factory production process.

  • Purple Energy is prototyping a new type of geothermal power plant with plans to eventually build a full-scale facility in Utah.

  • RNA Biosciences is developing diagnostic and personalized health clinical tests that improve the care of patients with liver disease.

  • Sci-U develops cell phone games designed to teach science-related subjects.

  • Sera Prognostics was created to commercialize a joint invention with BYU to establish a diagnostic platform for preeclampsia and pre-term birth.

  • Seasonal Energy is built around the development of the Utah Thermal Energy Siphon, a technology taking advantage of the ability to store and transfer energy from the ground.

  • TheraRenal is developing anti-obesity compounds using novel nitrated fatty acids.

  • TheraTarget is a USTAR company created to commercialize innovative polymer delivery technologies coupled with therapeutics for the treatment of cancer.
  • Waste Water Compliance Systems manufactures a wastewater digester, “Poo-Gloo,” for lagoons and municipalities.