Healthy Economy Innovation

AID Fund Supports Early Commercialization

Community resilience, canine cancer among startups

In 2017, Ginny Katz had an epiphany. Personalized, location-based communication software, such as apps used in social media platforms, could assist people in large public emergencies. Earthquakes and active-shooter situations can generate a flood of appeals for help, overwhelm the 911 emergency response system and delay effective responses. She saw a need for improvement.

Ginny Katz, Ph.D. student in the College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences, created a startup company, HazAdapt. (Photo: Karl Maasdam)

So Katz, a Ph.D. student in human geography at Oregon State University, decided to pursue that idea for her degree. She also created a startup company, HazAdapt. The goal is to help the public and emergency managers promote personal and community resilience.

Her adviser suggested that she turn to the Oregon State University Advantage Accelerator program for help in developing her business. She received vital support from the recently created early-stage Accelerator Innovation Development fund. 

“The AID fund is an investment in a company to be formed. When researchers apply, they haven’t formed a company yet, and to do that, they will go through the Accelerator program to apply their research,” says Mark Lieberman, chief startup officer and co-director of the Accelerator. “Learning how this process works helps reduce the uncertainty and the reliance on personal cash in starting a new business. That enables them to move forward at a faster pace.”

The market for emergency management software serving students and university professionals is estimated at $150 million a year. Katz participates in the Accelerator program to develop her business model. Her collaborators include a team of graduate students and professors Margaret Burnett and Anita Sarma in OSU’s School of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science.

“I have been surprised and thankful. The people I share this dream with have jumped on it heart and soul,” says Katz.

Chris Cebra launched a company, BTC, to develop treatments for canine cancer.

Another promising venture supported by the AID fund stems from work on canine cancer in the OSU Carlson College of Veterinary Medicine. Known as BTC, BioTesserae Camunity LLC, the company was formed by Chris Cebra, chair of the Department of Clinical Sciences, and colleagues Shay Bracha, Dan Mourich and Carl Ruby. They are targeting the market for canine cancer treatments estimated to reach $300 million a year by 2024. In the United States alone, nearly one in four dogs develops cancer over their lifetime. This promising technology uses nanobodies to target the immune system.

In addition to HazAdapt and BTC, several other startups have received AID funding, including:

  • Medema Labs, a system with emphasis on speed, precision and safety in computer-aided manufacturing
  • NexTC, a smart coating for glass surfaces 
  • CanCure Therapeutics, a new class of anticancer compounds

“Research without application doesn’t help anyone,” says Lieberman. “You have to get it into the marketplace for innovation to have impact.”

Eligibility for AID funding is limited to OSU students and faculty. Up to $25,000 is available for qualifying projects. 

By Nick Houtman

Nick Houtman is director of research communications at OSU and edits Terra, a world of research and creativity at Oregon State University. He has experience in weekly and daily print journalism and university science writing. A native Californian, he lived in Wisconsin and Maine before arriving in Corvallis in 2005.