By Ken Mammarella
Special to Delaware Business Times
A sensor-enabled chest model and a throwable robot were among the array of products featured at the first Tech Innovation Showcase put on by the University of Delaware Horn Entrepreneurship program
The showcase on Thursday also included a keynote and panel discussion on bringing ideas from the lab to the marketplace and advice sessions for local innovators by investors and strategic partners.
“It’s an exciting and perilous time for entrepreneurship at the University of Delaware,” said Dan Freeman, Horn’s founding director.
Freeman compared the “a desert of scarcity” in entrepreneurship in the past to “a forest of abundance” today, nurtured by 80 or so research centers or institutes at UD.
But it’s not a bed of roses. Ideas can take a long time to reach the marketplace, as long as 18 years for therapeutics, according to Tracy Shickel, UD’s new director of economic development.
Also, startups outside the hotbeds of Silicon Valley, Boston and New York tend to have lower profiles, and hence lower valuations, said keynote speaker Lydia McClure, vice president of scientific partnerships at the Translational Research Institute, which is working to boost startup capital for innovation and research at universities outside California, Massachusetts and New York.
Startups have many reasons to fail (No. 1 is no market need, she quoted CB Insights) and many reasons they fail to form (based on her 500 interviews, No. 1 is a lack of high-impact business talent).
Or as Brian Pryor, founder of LiteCure, a Newark maker of laser therapy medical devices, put it: Success needs a technologist, an entrepreneur and a mentor.
The event ended with a showcase of 17 startups associated with UD and Delaware State University. Two stood out for their market traction and underlying concepts.
Amy Cowperthwait and Amy Bucha co-founded Avkin in 2015 to create lifelike models of body parts to train nurses, with sensors giving immediate feedback to students using the devices to learn proper techniques and the humanity to see patients “not simply as a diagnosis, but as people.”
Its first three wearable products are the Avtrach (more than 100 sold to teach the respiratory system and related issues), the Avcath (more than 50 sold for catheters and related issues) and the Avstick (more than 30 sold for IV starts and related issues).
“We’re as close to the truth as possible,” Bucha said in explaining the firm’s name, which combines “akin” for similar and “vera” for truth. “Mannequins [used elsewhere] are not very realistic.
Since early 2017, Adam Stager, a doctoral student in mechanical engineering at UD, has been through five iterations of his sturdy robotic carts, going from 3-D printing to off-the-shelf parts made from carbon fiber and aluminum, in a modular design that can easily be customized.
So far, his TRIC Robotics sold just one, to an European educator. But they’ve been through a lot of testing and evaluation, and there’s a lot of interest from SWAT teams. He’s attached bungee cords so the robots can deliver small items, like a bottle of water, and he’s removed any lighting, so they can be secretly deployed, with their cameras “giving you eyes in unsafe conditions.”