From printed electronics to chlorophyll from Oregon spinach: OSU Venture Fund powers startups


CORVALLIS, Ore. — An innovative tax credit program aimed at fast-tracking commercialization of university research stands as a bright spot in Oregon’s sputtering economy. It is enabling two Oregon startup companies to receive funding that will help them grow faster and employ Oregonians sooner.

Both companies have licensed technologies developed at Oregon State University, and both are benefitting from OSU’s University Venture Development Fund, which was launched in 2007 by the Oregon Legislature with the goal of helping move university research to the marketplace more quickly. Oregon residents who contribute to the UVDF receive a 60 percent state tax credit for gifts to the fund.

Inpria, one of the startup companies, has developed a new way to create thin films for displays and other large-area electronics using low-cost printing processes. Current manufacturing processes use large, expensive vacuum deposition systems that require high temperatures, are associated with high levels of waste and often use toxic compounds.

“By developing novel inorganic materials that can be printed, we hope to dramatically reduce the manufacturing costs of high-performance, large-area displays while reducing the toxicity and energy required in fabrication,” said Andrew Grenville, a veteran of technology development at Intel who founded Inpria and serves as the company’s president. “If you can do large-area electronics manufacturing with the economics of printing, it’s a complete game-changer.”

OSU professors Douglas Keszler and John Wager are among the company’s co-founders.

Through a partnership, Inpria recently created a landmark LCD display using its technology. UVDF money helped the company leverage funding from other sources to explore additional markets, Grenville said.

Life Microsystems, another OSU-based startup receiving UVDF support, is capitalizing on the work of researchers George Bailey and Carole Jubert of the Linus Pauling Institute. Jubert developed a low-cost method for isolating pure chlorophyll from Oregon spinach. Early testing done in Bailey’s laboratory suggests that chlorophyll has the capability to bind with toxins in the human body, reducing DNA damage and potentially preventing cancers caused by exposure to environmental toxins such as aflatoxin and polyaromatic hydrocarbons in jet fuel, diesel fumes, cigarette smoke and others.

Ultra-pure chlorophyll sells for more than $100/mg due to its susceptibility to degradation; however, Life Microsystems recently isolated a much more stable crystalline form of ultra-pure chlorophyll using the latest liquid extraction technology.

“This is a worldwide first,” said Scott Gustafson, a veterinarian and the CEO of Life Microsystems. He is partnering with OSU professor John Mata. “The University Venture Development Fund provides an essential bridge of funding that allows us to take technologies licensed from OSU and turn them into a profitable business. It’s helping us tell people about the scientific breakthroughs made, which will result in adding value to Oregon’s agricultural products and improving human and animal health.”

Gustafson is also using his company’s technology to isolate and concentrate beneficial compounds in other Oregon agricultural products, such as black raspberries.

“These are just two examples of how vital research at Oregon State is being transformed into viable business enterprises through use of the venture funds,” said Brian Wall, OSU director of technology transfer and chair of the funds advisory committee. “By giving to the venture fund, donors not only receive tax benefits, but they literally help fuel Oregon’s economy. Additional awards will be provided as more donations are received, transferring basic research into applied, spurring more innovations, and increasing economic development.”

Donating to the fund extends even further due to an “evergreen” clause that is part of the legislation, Wall said. Twenty percent of revenue generated from inventions entering the marketplace through license agreements will replenish the venture fund and provide new tax credits for future donors.

As part of the University Venture Development Fund, the state legislature authorized eight Oregon universities to receive a total of $14 million in tax credit-eligible gifts. OSU’s share is the largest at $5.35 million. Other OSU projects receiving UVDF funding include:

  • $60,750 to Les Fuchigami in the College of Agricultural Sciences to finalize the development of a handheld meter that can easily, instantly and non-destructively determine the chlorophyll, nitrogen and water content of plant leaves, and show the results in a color-coded map.
  • $69,780 to Rich Carter, OTRADI researcher in the College of Science, to explore the industrial production of a novel organocatalyst to improve drug production.
  • $122,000 to Joe Beckman and the OSU Linus Pauling Institute to complete the prototype and demonstrate the utility of a simple tool that will improve the quality and speed of mass spectrometer analysis.
  • $71,200 to Kaichang Li, Oregon BEST researcher in the College of Forestry, for commercial application of a new formaldehyde-free wood adhesive from renewable materials.
  • $91,850 to Rich Peterson, ONAMI researcher in the College of Engineering, to complete bench-top demonstrations of an ultra-high temperature pasteurization system for processing tap water. This briefcase-size invention will be used as part of a portable kidney dialysis machine, licensed to OSU startup Home Dialysis Plus, as well as for other medical or scientific uses that require water of high chemical and biological purity.
  • $19,971 to a student project led by Chih-Hung Chang, an Oregon BEST and ONAMI researcher in the College of Engineering, to demonstrate the high efficiency of thin film solar cells by ink jet printing and business plan creation.

Additionally, six promising technologies have been chosen for a program where teams of MBA students in the College of Business perform market analysis and prepare business plans for each of the selected OSU-developed innovations.