Allain startup identifies spinal implants as market for plasma processing technology
Prof. J.P. Allain has used a National Science Foundation investment to determine the best market for his plasma processing technology that, among applications, can improve medical implants for human use.
Allain, a Nuclear, Plasma, and Radiological Engineering at Illinois faculty member, gained $50,000 from the NSF Innovation Corps (I-Corps) to support efforts of his startup company, Energy Driven Technologies LLC. The program prepares scientists and engineers to extend their focus beyond the university laboratory, and accelerates the economic and societal benefits of NSF-funded, basic-research projects that are ready to move toward commercialization.
Allain and his team spent seven weeks this past spring traveling across the country to conduct over 100 interviews with manufacturing companies, regulating agencies, hospitals and doctors involved with the implant manufacturing bio chain. The team concluded from those discussions that spinal implants would be the best fit for the technology.
“We found out that’s a huge market for us,” Allain said. “One of the biggest problems (with spinal implants) is they loosen because they don’t integrate quickly enough with bone. Our patented technology increases the surface area of the implant topography, which enables the osteoblast cells to multiply faster and integrate the implant with the body faster.”
Working with Allain are his former student, Zachariah Koyn, who earned a master’s degree in 2016; Katherine Chen, who earned a master’s degree in business administration from Illinois in 2016; and Edward Moore, who has gained over 30 years of experience in product development for medical devices.
The College of Engineering at Illinois chose Allain in Fall 2016 for the Faculty Entrepreneurial Fellow program so he could concentrate on developing the technology and evaluating its commercial potential. Fellows in the program direct students in conducting experiments, building prototypes, visiting potential customers, studying the market, conducting proof-of-concept research, and growing entrepreneurial opportunities.
Allain’s students gained knowledge in forming a startup company as they learned about developing and commercializing the plasma processing technology.
“What I found so valuable from FEF, is that it creates this dynamic to make a very deep market search and study that can really help the technology identify an opportunity for a fit,” Allain said.
He also has affiliated with the College’s Innovation, Leadership & Engineering Entrepreneurship (ILEE) program, designed to help engineering students better understand the innovative processes involved in identifying complex technical problems and creating, developing, and leading efforts to provide for their engineering solutions. The College’s Technology Entrepreneur Center administers the ILEE program.
In September Allain was invited to participate in the campus Office for Technology Management program, “Share the Vision.” He said his company’s work gained interest from industrial segments including heating, ventilation and air conditioning; medical technology; agriculture; and automotive.