What started out as a learning exercise in marketing a nanotechnology material for medical use has taken a big turn for a team involved in the Startup Quest™ entrepreneurship training program.
During the program, the team identified an alternative use for the material: protecting boat hulls from barnacles and other freeloaders.
Their work won the team first place in the fall 2013 Startup Quest™ Investor Pitch competition, and most members of the StartUp Quest™ team are now hard at work on the arduous task of commercializing the product, known as nMARINEx.
“This has been amazing,” said team member Susan Powers, who now serves as CEO of nRODx, the company developing the boat protectant. “Our team has a group of spectacular people who really get along.”
Startup Quest™ started in Gainesville as a pilot program of FloridaWorks (now renamed CareerSource North Central Florida). The program also involved other partners, including the University of Florida’s Office of Technology Licensing, the Gainesville Area Chamber of Commerce, 14 entrepreneurs and 12 investors.
The pilot was so successful that in 2012, the U.S. Department of Labor awarded the program a $12 million grant to create a consortium of eight workforce regions to replicate their success throughout Florida.
Through Startup Quest™, teams made up of unemployed and underemployed community members with at least a bachelor’s degree work together for 10 weeks. A mentor helps each group develop a business plan with the potential opportunity to commercialize an invention created at a state university or research lab.
University of Florida researchers originally developed the material used in nMARINEx, which employs nanotechnology to inhibit organisms from growing on surfaces treated with it.
Karl Zawoy, who served as the team’s mentor in Startup Quest™, brought the material to the group’s attention. He had envisioned using the material to treat stents and other medical implants to prevent infections.
But the team wanted to find an easier approach than getting approval for medical applications. That’s when serendipity occurred in two ways.
First, a wedding photographer for Powers’ daughter suggested that the team treat boats, as removing barnacles and other organisms from boats is an ongoing headache for many.
Second, team member Fred Chapin, who spent 45 years in the Navy and working as a Department of Defense employee, already had numerous contacts in the marine industry. He has now been working with those contacts to find potential buyers who would be interested in nMARINEx once testing is completed and manufacturing begins.
Zawoy’s help as a mentor was essential for her team, Powers said.
“When he started talking, we all wrote as fast as we could,” she said. “Following his advice in all the steps we needed to take — market analysis, product testing, finding investors and so on — was like getting an MBA in 10 weeks.”
The new venture is giving Powers a new career as she moves away from her professional photography business.
“I’m delighted to be able to make this pivot,” she said.
The next session of Startup Quest™ will begin in late March. For more information, call 352-244-5109, or email StartupQuest@careersourcencfl.com. An introductory workshop will be held from 1:30 to 4:30 p.m. on March 11 at the Best Western Plus Gateway Grand, 4200 NW 97th Blvd. RSVP at GainesvilleStartupQuest.eventbrite.com.
The team working to commercialize nMARINEx won first place in the Startup Quest™ competition, and most team members continue to work together.