Not every innovative idea needs to forever remain in the nest where it was born. Some just demand loving care and ferocious advocacy long enough to demonstrate their worth; then someone with more resources and experience can take over their development and help them achieve full potential as valuable contributions to industrial chemistry.
That’s the thought being pursued by Dr. Franchessa Sayler, CEO and co-founder of ThruPore Technologies, LLC. For the past five years, Sayler have been the parent and advocate for a unique heterogeneous catalyst she first began to develop while a student at the University of Alabama. She has done this through a series of grants and developmental awards while heading a company that remains today almost a virtual one. While being a virtual company has its limitations — including leaving little room for thoughts of grandiosity — “it does mean that we have a relatively small burn rate” of capital, Sayler says, from her Delaware office.
Much of the early developmental work was done at Alabama, where Sayler got her doctorate in analytical chemistry, and some of the lab work is still continuing there. Sayler began this developmental process within the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) I-Corps program, and she has subsequently raised $1.2 million in grants from the NSF and the University of Alabama. Currently, she remains principal investigator, using an NSF Phase II Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) award for scale-up.
But if Alabama was ThruPore’s birthplace, Sayler says, “We didn’t really take off until I moved up here. Down south there is not much of a chemical industry, but in Delaware, there are chemical companies of all sizes.” She also found an invaluable incubative atmosphere in the state created by the presence of the University of Delaware and organizations such as the Delaware Sustainable Chemistry Alliance.
ThruPore’s first product is a palladium-on-carbon catalyst for use in the hydrogenation industry, which, Sayler says, more precisely controls the pore size of support structures, yielding 75 percent more surface area. “Our high porosity enables much better dispersion throughout the metal catalyst within the support structure,” she says. “We’ve been working for a year and a half for a process that will take us to the 20-ton marker.”
Potentially, ThruPore’s technology will not just provide a more efficient technology, but also one that could cut catalyst costs in half.
Sayler is now continuing the arduous task of fund-raising through angel investors, and she expects to find rental space as scale-up continues. “In the future, when we get to the $100 million mark, we will probably get bought out by one of the big catalyst companies,” she says. “That’s what usually happens in the catalyst industry.”
Then it will be time for Sayler to start over again as an entrepreneur with new ideas and new technologies.