NUtech Ventures 2019-2020 Annual Report

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2019-2020 | ANNUAL REPORT

About Us NUtech Ventures is a technology commercialization affiliate of the University of Nebraska, serving the Lincoln and Kearney campuses. Our team evaluates, protects, markets and licenses the university’s intellectual property to improve quality of life and promote economic development. We also encourage entrepreneurship through programming and sponsored events.

Technology Commercialization Process RESEARCH







SOCIETAL BENEFIT AND POTENTIAL REVENUE Submitting a disclosure form is the first step in assessing market potential and options for intellectual property protection. Learn more at

NUtech Ventures Team

Alyssa Amen, Marketing & Communications Manager

Kimberly Bilder, Contracts Manager

Joy Eakin, Operations Manager

Stacy Kroeger, Intellectual Property Specialist

Aaron Funk, Contracts Negotiator

Zane Gernhart, Senior Technology Manager

Karen Gokie, Operations Support Associate

Courtney Grate, Intellectual Property Manager

Cheryl Horst, Associate Director & IP Counsel

Janae Kauffman, Financial Accountant

Jeewan Jyot, Senior Technology Manager

Rose Robotham, Compliance Coordinator

Brad Roth, Executive Director

Arpi Siyahian, Senior Technology Manager


Message from the Director Along with the rest of our campus community, NUtech Ventures has finished a fiscal year unlike any other. But even as the COVID-19 pandemic has changed routines at work and home, we’re encouraged by the spirit of Nebraska inventors, who are finding creative ways to continue their work—and in some cases, pivot their research to combat COVID-19. In this report, we’re featuring Nebraska chemist David Hage, who is developing a rapid COVID-19 antibody test in partnership with the company ni2o Inc. Hage is utilizing Nebraska-patented research and leading the test’s design—choosing biological components, materials and overall methods—while working with ni2o to develop a product that is easy to use in clinical settings. This report also features the work of Nebraska sociologist Bilal Khan, who leveraged a software application to meet the needs of contact tracing. The Bluetooth-based app—originally developed for a sociology research project—can inform individuals who were exposed to COVID-19 at a public place, such as a grocery store. Additional stories include the professional and personal impact of P. Stephen Baenziger’s small grains breeding program, university startup companies bringing research to market, a technology with the potential to improve hydrogen cell-based fuels and a university documentary film that has premiered at multiple film festivals nationwide. With the help of Zoom, our team continues to invest in the next generation of entrepreneurs through the ‘Nebraska Introduction to Customer Discovery’ program. Based on the National Science Foundation’s Innovation Corps (I-Corps), this program helps campus researchers develop a value proposition, learn about customer segmentation and interview prospective customers. Many participants, including featured researcher Sean Carr, gain insight that shape decisions about technology commercialization or starting a company. As we continue to adapt to the challenges associated with COVID-19, our goal remains the same: transferring technology from the lab to the marketplace, with broad, real-world impact. Thank you for partnering with us and sharing in the mission to improve quality of life and promote economic development.

Brad Roth, Ph.D.

Executive Director, NUtech Ventures Associate Vice Chancellor for Technology Development University of Nebraska–Lincoln


FY 2020 in Review Invention Disclosures by College * 52 - Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources 42 - College of Engineering 14 - College of Arts and Sciences 4 - College of Education and Human Sciences 2 - Other Colleges/Units * The total disclosure number is over 106, because several inventions stemmed from collaborative efforts involving more than one college or unit.

License Revenue


$6 M $5 M $4 M $3 M

Invention Disclosures

$2 M $1 M


$ 2M










License Agreements

6.6 M

License Revenue

35 30 25 20 15 10












Invention Disclosures


4.9 M

Royalty Distribution to inventors, colleges and university

120 100 80

In 2020, for the third year in a row, the

60 40


20 2016








University of Nebraska System ranked in the top 100 academic institutions



worldwide for issued U.S. patents.

U.S. Patents Issued to NUtech Ventures in FY 2020 NO.




Medical Inflation, Attachment & Delivery Devices and Related Methods

Mark Rentschler, Shane Farritor


Plants With Useful Traits and Related Methods

Roberto De la Rosa Santamaria, Sally Mackenzie


Methods, Systems, and Devices Relating to Surgical End Effectors

Shane Farritor, Thomas Frederick, Joe Bartels


Compounds for Increasing Lipid Synthesis and Storage

Nishikant Wase, Concetta DiRusso


Detecting Faults in Turbine Generators

Wei Qiao, Xiang Gong


Fiber Optic Bolometer

Ming Han, Matthew Reinke


Magneto-Electric Logic Devices Using Semiconductor Channel with Large Spin-Orbit Coupling

Xia Hong, Jonathan Bird, Peter Dowben, Christian Binek, Dmitri Nikonov, Kang Wang


Methods and Compositions for Obtaining Useful Plant Traits

Sally Mackenzie, Kamaldeep Virdi


Multifunctional Operational Component for Robotic Devices

Shane Farritor, Amy Lehman, Mark Rentschler, Nathan Wood, Jason Dumpert, Dmitry Oleynikov


Robotic Device with Compact Joint Design and Related Systems and Methods

Thomas Frederick, Shane Farritor, Eric Markvicka, Dmitry Oleynikov


Systems and Methods for Construction of Electrically Conductive Concrete Slab With Protection from Current Leakage

Christopher Tuan, Lim Nguyen


Disposable Fluidic Self-Propelling Robot for Traversing a Tubular Passage

Dmitry Oleynikov, Carl Nelson, Benjamin Terry, Hossein Dehghani, Prithviraj Dasgupta, Abolfazl Pourghodrat


System and Method for Monitoring Pleural Fluid

Dimitrios Miserlis, Suzanne Higgins, Abby Kelly, Max Twedt, Kim Cluff


Local Control Robotic Surgical Devices and Related Methods

Thomas Frederick, Shane Farritor, Eric Markvicka, Jack Mondry, Joe Bartels


System for Optimizing Fed-Batch Hydrolysis of Biomass

Deepak Keshwani, Chao Tai


Mechanical Connection for Concrete Structures

George Morcous, Raed Tawadrous


Fiber-Optic Temperature and Flow Sensor System and Methods

Weilin Hou, Ming Han, Guigen Liu, Qiwen Sheng


Production of Isoprene by Methane-Producing Archaea

Karrie Weber, Jared Aldridge, Sean Carr, Nicole Buan Murphy


Methods of Making and Using Lignin Derivatives

Chin Li “Barry� Cheung, Mark Helle


Amphiphilic Cyclobutenes and Cyclobutanes

Patrick Dussault, Wantanee Sittiwong, Robert Powers, Raul Barletta


Scalable Universal Space Vector Pulse Width Modulation Scheme for Multilevel Inverters

Wei Qiao, Liyan Qu, Fa Chen


Plants Having Increased Biomass and Methods for Making the Same

Thomas Clemente, Aleel Grennan, Donald Ort, Stephen Moose, Damla Bilgin, Fredy Altpeter, Stephen Long


Detecting Faults in Wind Turbines

Wei Qiao, Xiang Gong


Methods, Systems, and Devices Related to Robotic Surgical Devices, End Effectors and Controllers

Thomas Frederick, Shane Farritor, Eric Markvicka, Joe Bartels, Jack Mondry


Narrow Band Perovskite Single Crystal Photodetectors with Tunable Spectral Response

Yanjun Fang, Jinsong Huang


Robotic Devices with On Board Control & Related Systems & Devices

Shane Farritor, Jason Dumpert, Yutaka Tsutano, Erik Mumm, Philip Chu, Nishant Kumar


Engineered Clostridium Botulinum Toxin Adapted To Deliver Molecules Into Selected Cells

Paul Blum, Benjamin Pavlik, Kevin Van Cott


Narrowband Nanocomposite Photodetector

Jinsong Huang, Liang Shen, Fawen Guo


Non-Neuroinvasive Viruses and Uses Thereof

Ekaterina Heldwein, Gregory Smith, Patricia Sollars, Gary Pickard


Iron Pyrite Nanocrystals

Jinsong Huang, Baodong Mao, Christopher Exstrom


Innovator Celebration FY 2020 Each fall, NUtech Ventures hosts the Innovator Celebration, which honors the achievements of university faculty, staff and students who are developing and commercializing cutting-edge research. This year’s virtual event includes awards for notable campus inventors, creators and partner companies.

2020 Awards Prem S. Paul Innovator of the Year

Startup Company

George Graef, professor of agronomy and horticulture

Agricultural Flaming Innovations

This award recognizes an individual who exemplifies innovation and entrepreneurship by advancing novel research into significant commercial utilization.

This award recognizes a startup company—founded by UNL faculty, staff or students—that has licensed university technology and made significant progress in becoming a sustainable business.

Graef is a world-class soybean breeder who has developed conventional varieties, glyphosate-tolerant varieties, LL55-tolerant varieties and food grade varieties, used to make tofu. He works closely with academic and industry collaborators.

Agricultural Flaming Innovations is led by George Gogos, professor of mechanical and materials engineering. Through a research collaboration with Stevan Knezevic, professor of agronomy and horticulture, Gogos developed equipment that uses heat for certified organic weed control. When mounted to a tractor, it directs propane-fueled flames at weeds, which wilt and die—leaving crops unaffected.

Breakthrough Innovation of the Year

Commercialization Partner

Bob Hutkins, professor of food science and technology

Omni-Threat Structures (OTS)

This award recognizes a technology developed in the past year that will likely have a profound effect on industry, business or a field of study.

This award recognizes a company that has licensed and developed university technology, bringing it to market as a product or service.

Hutkins is a renowned scientist in probiotics and prebiotics, and has developed several probiotic strains that show a positive effect on the human microbiome. He is a co-founder of faculty startup company Synbiotic Health, which is working to commercialize synbiotics— combinations of probiotics and prebiotics—for food, beverage and nutraceutical products.

OTS builds disaster-resistant structures. The company has licensed modified concrete formulations and methods that provide shielding from high level electromagnetic pulse energy (EMP). The technology protects sensitive electronics from EMP, which can cripple power grids, data centers and other critical infrastructure.

Emerging Innovator of the Year

Creative Works

Shudipto Dishari, assistant professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering

James Le Sueur, Samuel Clark Waugh Distinguished Professor of International Relations & Department Chair

This award recognizes an individual, often a junior faculty member, for recent innovation contributions.

This award recognizes an individual who has developed a creative innovation, such as a film, which is typically protected under copyright.

Dishari’s research focuses on designing ion-conducting and light-harvesting polymers, exploring the nanoscale phenomena within polymeric thin films and membranes. Her work could help reduce the cost and improve the energy efficiency of hydrogen-based fuel cells. Other potential applications include energy conversion and storage device systems, such as lithium batteries, semiconductors and biochemical systems.


Le Sueur is the co-producer and director of the documentary film, “The Art of Dissent,” which explores the role of artistic activism during Czechoslovakia’s communist takeover and nonviolent transition from communist power. The film premiered in August 2020 at the Rhode Island International Film Festival, where it won the Social Spotlight Award, which recognizes films that are bringing awareness to critical and underreported issues.

Outreach Events Creating Opportunities for Engagement Molly Kocialski’s career inspiration came early—long before she was named a regional director at the United States Patent and Trademark Office, served as legal counsel for Fortune 500 technology firms or earned a degree in chemical engineering. It came from her dad, an engineer. Kocialski discussed the importance of that inspiration—especially for women and groups underrepresented in science, technology, engineering and mathematics—as part of a November 2019 campus visit hosted by NUtech Ventures. “Many women have an early origin story of how they became interested in STEM,” said Kocialski, USPTO Rocky Mountain regional director. “We want more people to have access to these inspirational figures and know what’s possible for them.” Kocialski’s visit was one of 23 campus events hosted by NUtech Ventures during the 2019-20 fiscal year. Additional events included departmental information sessions about technology transfer, visits from intellectual property attorneys, outreach to graduate students and entrepreneurship programming, including a mixer cohosted with the Daugherty Water for Food Institute. In November 2019, NUtech hosted its seventh annual Innovator Celebration, which honors the achievements of university faculty, staff and students who are developing and commercializing cutting-edge research. “Our goal is to help the campus community learn about the unique intersection of business, science and law, and how they can have an impact,” said Cheryl Horst, NUtech Ventures associate director and IP counsel. “One of the ways we do this is by hosting events, such as guest speakers and programs, for the university campus to engage with technology transfer and explore opportunities to advance their research.”

Molly Kocialski, USPTO regional director, speaks during a November 2019 campus visit.

Chancellor Green delivers opening remarks at the 2019 Innovator Celebration.

Ellen Argo leads an entrepreneurship mixer focused on water innovation, co-hosted by NUtech and the Daugherty Water for Food Global Institute.


COVID-19 Technology Developing Contact Tracing Technology How does society establish a new normal during a pandemic? A key approach involves contact tracing, in which public health officials alert anyone potentially exposed to a newly diagnosed patient within the past 14 days, the incubation period for COVID-19. Contact tracing can be done with teams of public health officials, relying on a patient’s known contacts. Or it can be done with technology, alerting both known and unknown contacts, such as someone walking by at a grocery store. Nebraska’s Bilal Khan has developed a technology solution: a software application system that is ready to pilot. He is working with NUtech Ventures to find a community partner for implementation. “Without technology, there is no efficient way to inform contacts who were passively exposed at a public place,” said Khan, Happold Professor of Sociology and professor of computer science and engineering. “We also want to give people a richer, more personalized stream of data about how much risk they are taking on—which will help them make decisions about balancing their health risk with their economic risk.” The software system was originally developed at the University of Nebraska– Lincoln to study how human interactions—specifically, physical proximity to others—affect public health attitudes and behavior, as part of a sociology research project funded by the National Institutes of Health. “Now, five years later, we have this system that already exists and doesn’t need to be designed and built from scratch,” Khan said. “That’s the fortuitous coincidence. Our goal is to leverage it and quickly put something into use.”

This software app is valuable for public health officials, because it could give them a real sense of how sentiments are changing over time. Sentiments are a leading indicator of behavior, and behavior is a leading indicator of transmission.” — Bilal Khan


Nebraska’s Bilal Khan developed technology for contact tracing, a process that alerts individuals who were potentially exposed to COVID-19.

David Hage

Commercializing Faster COVID-19 Antibody Test Nebraska chemist David Hage has joined a nationwide team, led by the company ni2o Inc., that is repurposing patented technologies to develop and manufacture a rapid COVID-19 antibody test. Hage and his graduate students are leading the test’s design—choosing biological components, materials and overall methods—while working with ni2o to develop a product that is easy to use in clinical settings. “Typically, if it was just my group working on it, a project like this would take a year or more, because there are many steps involved,” said Hage, the James Hewett University Professor of Chemistry. “And we’re trying to do this process in months, not years.” The test’s design starts with a particle-based support material. It acts like Velcro inside a test tube: When a sample of blood or saliva passes through the particles, only the desired compounds stick. Working with NUtech Ventures, Hage previously patented a support material that helps compounds rapidly bind together, along with a method for using the material in clinical testing. Now, Hage’s team is using that patented research to develop a faster antibody test. “The speed of this type of test is often limited by how long it takes the antibodies and proteins to come together in a solution,” Hage said. “By using very small particles for the support material, we’re making shorter distances for compounds to travel, and we’re able to speed up this binding process.” Ultimately, these tests could help public health officials understand the spread of the virus. They could also help organizations determine who to enroll in vaccine clinical trials. “As researchers, we understand the importance of this work,” Hage said. “It is a pretty challenging project, but we’re doing our best to make this happen.”


Startup Innovation University of Nebraska–Lincoln faculty are launching startup companies to bring their innovation to the marketplace. Teams have licensed the university’s intellectual property from NUtech Ventures and are further developing it for commercial use. The resulting companies are advancing technology to improve organic weed control, surface de-icing, pediatric cancer detection and gut health.

Agricultural Flaming Innovations

Agricultural Flaming Innovations is led by George Gogos, professor of mechanical and materials engineering. Through research at Nebraska—including collaboration with Stevan Knezevic, professor of agronomy and horticulture—Gogos has developed equipment that uses heat for certified organic weed control. When mounted to a tractor, it directs propanefueled flames at weeds, which wilt and die, leaving crops unaffected. The company currently sells different sizes of equipment for weed control in corn, soybean, sunflower and sorghum crops. Gogos and Knezevic also work with farmers to teach them the right method to use with various crops.

Conductive Concrete Technologies

Conductive Concrete Technologies, LLC, is founded by Christopher Y. Tuan, professor of civil engineering, and his son, Christopher B. Tuan. The team installs a conductive concrete snow-melting system for de-icing, which is based on Tuan’s 2019 patent to ensure electrical safety. The concrete mixture also has applications for electromagnetic pulse shielding and indoor radiant heating. The team has successfully implemented the de-icing technology in multiple boarding platforms along Kansas City bus routes, keeping them clear of snow and ice to improve safety for the general public.


Ground Fluor Pharmaceuticals

Ground Fluor Pharmaceuticals is founded by Stephen DiMagno, formerly a chemistry professor at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln. The company develops F-18 radiotracers, radioactive labels that are detected by a positron emission tomography (PET) scan, which is commonly used to detect cancer, heart problems and other diseases. The company’s technology has unique applications for detecting pediatric neuropediatric neuroblastoma, a cancer that is found in the nerve tissue of infants and young children.

Synbiotic Health

Synbiotic Health is co-founded by Nebraska’s Bob Hutkins, Andy Benson and Tom Burkey, as well as the University of Alberta’s Jens Walters and CEO Tim Brummels. A synbiotic, the company’s namesake, refers to the mixture of beneficial bacteria and fiber-like fuel that may be more effective at delivering health benefits when paired together. The team formed Synbiotic Health with the goal of commercializing synbiotic combinations as ingredients for food and beverage products.


Creative Works and Emerging Technology Telling Stories through Documentary Filmmaking NUtech Ventures is taking on a new role as the executive producer of a university documentary film, helping Nebraska historian James Le Sueur bring his story to a broad audience. Le Sueur’s film, “The Art of Dissent,” explores the role of artistic activism during Czechoslovakia’s communist takeover and nonviolent transition from communist power. The film premiered in August 2020 at the Rhode Island International Film Festival, where it won the Social Spotlight Award, which recognizes films that are bringing awareness to critical and underreported issues. “Our film celebrates the power and courage of dissent, which created a tolerant civil society,” said Le Sueur, Samuel Clark Waugh Distinguished Professor and chair of the Department of History. While Le Sueur originally considered collaborating with Hollywood studios, he decided to work with Czech TV and NUtech Ventures to maintain creative control as director. As an executive producer, NUtech owns the rights to the film’s intellectual property and helped navigate legal agreements related to archival footage and music from foreign countries. “At Nebraska, I had people who understood what I was trying to do, and they wanted to see me do it,” Le Sueur said. “This could only happen here. My editor said, ‘No other university in the world is doing film like this.’ Nebraska helped this project flourish.” As the film’s co-producer, Le Sueur wrote, directed and narrated the film, but his role expanded beyond that of a typical historian. He also operated his own video cameras, set up lights and microphones, and taught himself film editing, in addition to researching archival footage and conducting interviews. “I think filmmaking can transform the field of history,” Le Sueur said. “There are so many oral histories and stories that people need to tell and want to tell. In my experience, almost everybody opens up once you turn the camera on. There’s a magic to it.”


Nebraska’s James Le Sueur shoots a segment for “The Art of Dissent,” a feature documentary film with executive producers at Czech TV and NUtech Ventures.

Dishari has developed polymer technology that could make hydrogen fuel cells more energy efficient.

Shudipto Dishari

Sustainable energy is needed to improve quality of . life—that’s the driving force for this technology. — Shudipto Dishari, assistant professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering

Improving Hydrogen-Based Fuel Cells Nebraska engineer Shudipto Dishari is fueling the future. Her research aims to reduce the cost and improve the energy efficiency of hydrogen-based fuel cells, which are used to fuel electric cars. These cars are currently more expensive than traditional combustion engines, which has prevented widespread adoption. Dishari has developed polymers that create channels inside polymer layers, enabling charged particles to move easier and faster across the system—making fuel cells more energy efficient. She is working with NUtech Ventures, which has filed a patent application for the technology. “The fuel cell is a pretty cool technology,” said Dishari, assistant professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering. “It’s green technology. It produces electricity without creating harmful gases like carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide, so it will help us reduce the global carbon footprint.” Beyond cars, hydrogen-based energy sources are used to power forklifts and other machinery, large data centers and cellular towers, when a backup energy source is needed. The U.S. space industry has used fuel cells in space shuttles, while the military uses them as portable energy sources. Dishari said her research in nano-thin polymer systems can improve understanding of other energy conversion and storage device systems, such as lithium batteries, semi-conductors and natural biochemical systems. Her research also allows her to help educate the next generation. “My goal is to inspire and prepare students to work in the renewable energy field,” Dishari said.


Innovator Spotlight: P. Stephen Baenziger A Career of Breeding Small Grains, Supporting Growers Whether he’s in the lab, the field or a crop improvement meeting, Nebraska’s P. Stephen Baenziger is focused on building partnerships. That philosophy has shaped his small grains breeding program, which is recognized globally and throughout Nebraska, where farmers know him by name. And they also know his wheat varieties by name—more than 50 percent of Nebraska’s wheat acres are planted with varieties from Baenziger’s breeding program. “Stephen is world class and always interested in learning what growers need or want in a specific region,” said Chris Cullan, owner of Cullan Farms Seed Company in Alliance, Nebraska. “He has the motto ‘I work for Nebraska.’ People know that, and he has great value to our state’s growers.” Over the course of his 34-year career at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln, Baenziger has developed 61 new cultivars of wheat, barley and triticale, a hybrid of wheat and rye. He’s also developed key partnerships with private companies, crop improvement associations, seed dealers, farmers, millers and bakers. “There’s an old African proverb: if you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together,” said Baenziger, professor of agronomy and horticulture. “There are lots of interlinking pieces that a complex program needs to keep it at the cutting edge and let it go far. It’s like putting a 1000-piece puzzle together, and every piece has a fit.” One of these pieces includes partnerships with private companies. Working with NUtech Ventures, Baenziger helped lead the university’s non-exclusive germplasm licensing agreement with Bayer Crop Science, which funds an endowed professorship, research and education for the small grains breeding program. As a result of the 2010 agreement, Bayer Crop Science located its North American Wheat Breeding Station near Lincoln, where the company is developing relevant varieties for Nebraska farmers, adding jobs and providing industry connections for students. These connections are valuable, Baenziger noted, because 75 percent of his students accept jobs in the private sector. “We crafted this agreement by staying true to our land-grant values, and it was a win for the university, the company and Nebraska growers,” said Baenziger, who also serves as the Wheat Growers Presidential Chair. “Ten years later, this agreement has resulted in additional resources devoted to our wheat growers, and at the university, we have an outstanding partner and collaborator.”


P. Stephen Baenziger, far right, harvests wheat with students.

Wheat from a university test plot in northeast Lincoln.

By the Numbers

61 20%

New wheat, barley and triticale cultivars, collectively planted on millions of acres throughout the United States.

Increase in yield for Nebraska wheat producers.

From the Community Chris Cullan Owner of Cullan Farms Seed Company in Alliance, Nebraska As a certified seed dealer, Chris Cullan sells many of Baenziger’s wheat varieties to farmers throughout western Nebraska. These varieties must first succeed in trials, or test runs, to ensure they will grow well in his region. Cullan then purchases the university seed and grows, harvests, cleans and sells it to neighboring farmers. With just one exception, Cullan exclusively sells wheat varieties developed at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln.


Additional annual income generated for Nebraska wheat producers, due to increased yield.

“It comes back to the idea of a land-grant institution, where revenue stays local. It’s a big factor in everyone’s purchase considerations. And our growers trust Stephen’s ability to develop varieties for our specific region and micro areas in Nebraska. People who live here understand that value.”


License revenue generated for the University of Nebraska–Lincoln.

Steve Knox


Companies that have licensed Baenziger’s cultivars.

Director of the Nebraska Crop Improvement Association The Nebraska Crop Improvement Association (NCIA) helps the seed industry produce a quality product to sell to farmers. The association provides field inspections and tests for seed count, purity, germination and weight. This helps seed dealers meet certification standards and helps farmers ensure they have accurate information to grow a quality crop. During his tenure at NCIA, Steve Knox has seen the positive economic and personal influences from Baenziger’s program. “Stephen has released many great varieties that have had a big impact on sales in the state, because it allows seed dealers to offer more options. He is also very customer-focused; he solicits input from growers, answers their questions and attends seed days and seed previews, as well as our NCIA annual convention. Stephen has the land-grant vision.”

P. Stephen Baenziger


Entrepreneurship Discovering Problems, Pitching Solutions Mary Radke has firsthand experience with transportation barriers—most cars don’t accommodate the type of wheelchair her sister, Elissa, depends on. As a senior mechanical engineering major, Radke participated in the inaugural undergraduate course, Engineering Introduction to Customer Discovery, and developed her solution: a wheelchair that breaks down to fit inside any vehicle, while allowing wheelchair users to remain in the same seat during the loading process. She named her concept “Elissachairs” in honor of her sister, who was born with spastic quadriplegia, a form of cerebral palsy affecting muscle coordination. “These families have enough problems to worry about, and transportation shouldn’t be one of them,” Radke said. Radke presented her business pitch for “Elissachairs” at the December 2019 Engineering Pitch Competition, winning first place in the undergraduate category. Hosted by the College of Engineering and NUtech Ventures, the competition featured 16 undergraduate and graduate teams from departments across campus. The competition also doubled as a final assignment for the 30 students enrolled in Engineering Introduction to Customer Discovery, including Radke. The onecredit course taught students concepts including value proposition, customer segmentation, market size and business models. Course instructors from the College of Engineering, the National Strategic Research Institute and NUtech Ventures also taught students how to conduct interviews with prospective customers and use that feedback to inform their ideas. “The class shaped my entire project, because initially, I only had broad ideas about changing a wheelchair,” Radke said. “After going out on interviews, I learned that transportation was a big problem. It’s not about having a great idea and forcing it; people will tell you what they need.”


Mary Radke, third from left, was the undergraduate winner of the fall 2019 Engineering Pitch Competition.

Program Teaches Entrepreneurship Skills A program co-hosted by NUtech Ventures is encouraging researchers to step outside the lab and view their innovation from stakeholders’ perspectives. Nebraska Introduction to Customer Discovery (N-ICD) launched its second cohort in spring 2020, transitioning to Zoom instruction and presentations. It is modeled after the National Science Foundation’s Innovation Corps, in which researchers interview stakeholders to understand their needs—and then use that feedback to guide decisions about a startup company or technology commercialization. The N-ICD program included weekly office hours with staff from NUtech Ventures, UNL’s Center for Entrepreneurship, Invest Nebraska and the National Strategic Research Institute. It also featured sessions to teach concepts such as value proposition and customer segmentation, which helps entrepreneurs narrow their focus to test specific hypotheses. Here’s what Sean Carr, a doctoral student of biological sciences, said about his experience in the spring 2020 program. His team included Nicole Baun, associate professor of biochemistry, and Paul Blum, Charles Bessey Professor of biological sciences.

Sean Carr

Herman Batelaan, professor of physics and astronomy, and Bret Gergely, a graduate student in physics and astronomy, participate in the fall 2019 program.

“Our team developed an enzyme cocktail that could help bioethanol facilities produce more ethanol from plants. During N-ICD, we wanted to see if existing ethanol manufacturers would be interested in using our enzyme cocktail. We learned how the industry works from the inside, directly from those who work in it. Our team found issues to address that we didn’t even know were problems. I learned that you can’t just assume what people are going to want; before investing significant resources into your product, it is important to make sure there is a critical need for it. Some of the best feedback I got during customer discovery came from people on the ‘outskirts’ of the industry where our technology would be implemented. Overall, the program really helped me learn how to speak the language of entrepreneurship, and I developed a network of contacts at UNL, as well as in the wider ethanol industry.”


Student Interns by College

NUtech Intern Program Providing Learning Opportunities



College of Engineering


College of Arts and Sciences


College of Law


College of Journalism and Mass Communications

NUtech offers internships for undergraduate, graduate and professional students enrolled at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln. Interns come from diverse academic backgrounds, including law, science, business and communications. As alumni, they go on to pursue equally diverse careers in academia, industry, law and nonprofits. The program includes five to seven commercialization analyst internships each year, which are available to graduate students in chemistry, biology, engineering, food science and other technical fields. These students work closely with NUtech’s technology managers to evaluate newly disclosed technologies and conduct research on intellectual property, market potential and commercialization readiness. The program also includes internships in law, business and communications. Students in these roles gain experience assisting with legal contracts, developing stakeholder reports and creating content. Here’s what current legal contracts intern Kathryn Zieno, Nebraska law student, said about her experience:


College of Business


Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources


College of Education and Human Sciences


Total student interns since 2014

“This internship helped me discover the field of intellectual property, which is helpful for my future career. As a contracts intern, I enjoy working with intellectual property contracts and protecting technologies, as well as the opportunity to gain exposure to contract negotiations.”

Top row, from left: Heidi Roth, Yifan Huang, Kathryn Zieno. Middle row, from left: Jessica Minnick, Molly Darlington, Farzaneh Mousavi. Bottom row, from left: Celena Shepherd, Sina Niazi, Lathan Ellis.

Intern Alumni Courtney Grate

Intellectual Property Manager, NUtech Ventures | Lincoln, NE B.S. in Biochemistry, University of Nebraska–Lincoln J.D., University of Nebraska College of Law

Commercialization Analyst Intern, 2014-2016 “The internship landed me my first job in my career; I knew very little about technology transfer before it. One of the most important things I experienced at NUtech was working in a team environment. Our jobs didn’t exist in isolation, and we had to work together to achieve a common goal.”

Kazi Jahan

Failure Analysis Engineer, Intel | Chandler, AZ B.S. in Mechanical Engineering, Bangladesh University of Engineering & Technology M.B.A., University of Nebraska–Lincoln Ph.D. in Mechanical and Materials Engineering, University of Nebraska–Lincoln

Commercialization Analyst Intern, 2018-2019 “One of the most important things I learned during the internship was how the technology transfer process connects intellectual work from the laboratory to society. I want to continue to work with processes that help make technology available for everyone to create a better life. Overall, one of my favorite aspects of the internship was the encouraging feedback from my managers and the social events within the office.”

Hozhabr Mozafari

Post-Doctoral Fellow, University of Iowa Research Foundation, Licensing Department Iowa City, Iowa B.S. & M.S. in Rolling Stock Engineering, Iran University of Science & Technology M.S. in Mechanical Engineering and Applied Mathematics, University of Nebraska–Lincoln Ph.D. in Materials Engineering, University of Nebraska–Lincoln

Commercialization Analyst Intern, June 2019-December 2019 “The NUtech internship itself was one of the most important experiences I put on my resume, because interviewers mainly asked about that experience. My favorite part of the internship involved researching new technologies, because I liked the challenge to think differently.”

Nathan Sheldon

Real Estate Specialist, University of Nebraska–Lincoln | Lincoln, NE B.S. in Business Administration, University of Nebraska at Kearney J.D., University of Nebraska College of Law

Contracts Analyst Intern, 2015-2016 “Through the opportunity at NUtech, I realized how much I enjoyed working for the University of Nebraska. I saw the unique challenges and opportunities the university setting offers. I also had the chance to meet with faculty, which helped prepare me for my current role, because I communicate daily with faculty, staff and administration.”


NUtech Ventures Team

Board of Directors

Corporate Officers

Alyssa Amen Marketing & Communications Manager

Michael Boehm University of Nebraska–Lincoln

Marc LeBaron Chairman

Kimberly Bilder Contracts Manager

Ronnie Green University of Nebraska–Lincoln

Bob Wilhelm Vice Chairman

Joy Eakin Operations Manager

Brad Korell

Brad Roth President

Marc LeBaron Lincoln Industries

Aaron Funk Contracts Negotiator

Abe Oommen MatMaCorp

Zane Gernhart Senior Technology Manager Karen Gokie Operations Support Associate Courtney Grate Intellectual Property Manager Cheryl Horst Associate Director & IP Counsel

Thomas Sattler Bob Wilhelm University of Nebraska–Lincoln Jay Wilkinson Firespring

William Nunez Treasurer Mike Zeleny Secretary Mary LaGrange Assistant Treasurer Becky Zavala Assistant Secretary

Janae Kauffman Financial Accountant Stacy Kroeger Intellectual Property Specialist Jeewan Jyot Senior Technology Manager Rose Robotham Compliance Coordinator Brad Roth Executive Director Arpi Siyahian Senior Technology Manager

2021 Transformation Drive, Suite 2220 | Lincoln, NE 68508 (402) 472-1783 | | @NUtechVentures Writer: Alyssa Amen | Editors: Alyssa Amen, Joy Eakin | Designer: Laura Leffler | Content Contributors: Courtney Grate, Rose Robotham, Celena Shepherd | Photography: Alyssa Amen, Craig Chandler Copyright 2020 by NUtech Ventures.