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From Vision to Venture ‘a win-win’

March 18, 2015 — 

Imagine yourself a researcher, seeking a solution to a problem. You find the solution. After you protect any intellectual property and publish your findings, what’s next?

The Vision to Venture two-day event takes solutions that can lead to a marketable product to the experts who can evaluate it for just that: potential marketability and next steps to get it there.

“The path after a new invention is not always clear,” says Darren Fast, director of the Technology Transfer Office (TTO) at the U of M.

“Tapping into the business acumen available here in Winnipeg and elsewhere is key to determining the next steps and the work that remains to be done, which is often quite significant in the early stages.”

There were seven technologies or inventions showcased at the U of M’s second annual Vision to Venture event last week. They were:

Outsized bite: A way to beat the tiny and perpetually bothersome mosquito?

Outsized bite: A way to beat the tiny and perpetually bothersome mosquito?

  • Biological Control of Insects (inventor: Steve Whyard, biological sciences, Faculty of Science)
  • Method to Rapidly Detect Insects in Granular Materials (co-inventors: Fuji Jian, Digvir Jayas, biosystems engineering, Faculty of Engineering)
  • Textile fibers and textiles from Brassica plants (co-inventors: Gustaaf Sevenhuysen, Mashuir Rahman, human ecology)
  • Ring Piezoelectric Harvester (co-inventors: Nan Wu, Quan Wang, Xiangdong Xie Nan Wu; mechanical engineering, Faculty of Engineering)
  • A Passive Wireless Sensor for the Measurement Electric Field Spatial Profile Surrounding High Voltage
  • Apparatus (co-inventors: Behzad Kordi, Douglas Thomson, Mana Yazdani; electrical & computer engineering, Faculty of Engineering)
  • Ocean Wave Harvesting by Piezoelectric Coupled Buoy (inventor: Nan Wu; mechanical engineering, Faculty of Engineering)
  • In-Situ Metastable Polymerization of Conducting Poly (3,4-ethylenedioxythiophene) (co-inventors: Bhavana Deore, Michael Freund, Nicholas Svenda; chemistry, Faculty of Science)


The TRL or Technology Readiness Level

The inventors presented their technologies in a series of five-minute presentations to an audience of business, government and students at the U of M’s James W. Burns Executive Education Centre. This gave the group a snapshot of each invention and what it could do and how far along the TRL — or Technology Readiness Level — continuum it might be.

What is TRL? It is a metric for describing the maturity of a technology, with a scale that consists of nine levels. Each level characterizes the progress in the development of a technology, from the idea (level 1) to the full deployment of the product in the marketplace (level 9). The scale was developed by NASA in the 1970s to assess the maturity of a technology prior to integrating this technology into a system. It has evolved from seven levels to today’s current nine levels.

Most technologies created at universities are between levels 1 and 3.

“The university’s new ‘Transformational Partnerships’ approach in working with business collaboratively to help those companies and partners succeed in commercializing our technologies is a ‘win-win,’” says Digvir Jayas, vice-president (research and international).

“Working directly with our Technology Transfer Specialists, businesses have access to their expertise and the expertise of the researchers who developed the technology to support their business growth. Researchers gain a business perspective on their technologies which enables their idea and hopefully starts it on the journey from the lab to the marketplace.”

Scott MacAulay, entrepreneurship activation researcher and instructor at Red River College of Applied Arts, Science and Technology presented on entrepreneurship and technology commercialization. This provided the basis for breakout groups to structure a successful business development plan. It also provided an education forum on market pain (a ‘must have’) versus market need (a ‘nice to have’) and how this influences technology adoption.

Three technologies workshopped

The keen group of attendees rolled up their sleeves on Friday and narrowed the field of seven down to three technologies to focus their energies and expertise on over the course of the day. They were:

  • Biological Control of Insects: a sustainable and safe way to reduce disease carrying mosquito populations
  • Method to Rapidly Detect Insects in Granular Materials: a method to easily and affordably detect insects in grain bins
  • Textile fibers and textiles from Brassica plants: a new fiber with potential usages in numerous commodities

Joelle Foster, director of Futurpreneur Canada for Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Nunavut, NWT, was at the event as one of the experts. Futurpreneur (formerly Canadian Youth Business Foundation) was also a sponsor of the event.

Foster participated in the Biological Control of Insects workshop.

She says, “It was extremely rewarding and enlightening working with a brilliant scientist and a group of entrepreneurs to help see his vision come to fruition. The ideas presented at this event are disruptive innovations — in the sense of having potential to create a new market and value network, and eventually even disrupt an existing market and value network over a few years or decades, displacing an earlier technology. As such, they need to move forward!”

The annual event is hosted by the Vice-President (Research and International) and Technology Transfer Offices, and this year was sponsored by Red River College, the Stu Clark Centre for Entrepreneurship, Ramp Up Manitoba, The Eureka Project, Futurpreneur Canada, Assent Works, Consultica, Red Leaf Capital, Innovate Manitoba, and the Province of Manitoba.

Research at the University of Manitoba is partially supported by funding from the Government of Canada Research Support Fund.

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