Mike Welge, research and development program manager and director of the automated learning group at the National Center for Supercomputing Applications, and his colleagues developed D2K (Data to Knowledge), a visual programming environment that allows users to connect software modules together to create unique industry-specific data-mining applications. The technology is being marketed by Moire, a startup company in the technology incubator at Urbana that has received funding from IllinoisVENTURES.
Photo by Bill Wiegand
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A company that the UI is helping launch already is helping industry giants conduct their business and may be poised to capitalize on the next big wave in business – business-activity monitoring.
Moire Inc., a high-volume data analysis company, was just formed in December, and its chief executive officer, Kirk Dauksavage, has been on the job only a few weeks.
But with seed funding from IllinoisVENTURES, its lead investor and the university's limited liability company for nurturing startup businesses, and some space in the technology incubator at the Champaign Research Park, Moire is already engaged in pilot projects for British Petroleum and COUNTRY Insurance and Financial Services.
Moire uses the D2K (Data to Knowledge) data mining software created by a research team led by Michael Welge, research and development program manager and director of the automated learning group at the National Center for Supercomputing Applications. The company delivers industry-specific software applications that aggregate and analyze diverse forms of data such as unstructured text, numeric, images and streaming data. The information Moire gleans can help companies make real-time decisions and predictions so they can capitalize on emerging opportunities or correct processes that are beginning to go awry.
Moire is just one of many companies that IllinoisVENTURES has under its wing, helping them commercialize technologies developed at the university while fostering economic development throughout the state.
IllinoisVENTURES provides consulting services, such as assistance with business planning, market and sector research, and management recruitment and provides venture funding at various levels to companies on a merit basis.
CEO and managing director John Banta and IllinoisVENTURES' Board of Managers, a cross section of industry leaders and university faculty members and administrators, lend their expertise to bring innovations out of the university laboratories and into the marketplace.
And by all accounts business is booming. Since IllinoisVENTURES' launch in October 2002, it has reviewed more than 200 early stage technologies or potential companies, engaged with at least 70 of those consultatively and provided some level of funding to 25 of them, Banta said.
IllinoisVENTURES is the general partner for the Illinois Emerging Technology Fund, $20 million early-stage venture capital fund that was formed in early 2004. The state and the University provide approximately $4 million in public funding for IllinoisVENTURES, but the Illinois Emerging Technology Fund is entirely privately funded.
"We've made tremendous progress and had a lot of activity," Banta said. "But the success of IllinoisVENTURES is just a reflection of the outstanding faculty here at Illinois."
Mike Fritz, director of the Office of Technology Management at the Urbana campus, which works closely with IllinoisVENTURES, agreed that technology development at Illinois is thriving.
"Our volume continues to increase substantially, quarter by quarter, month by month. We've got six or seven weeks left in this fiscal year, and this will be the most active fiscal year in technology commercialization that we've ever had," Fritz said. "As of last week, our disclosures have already exceeded last fiscal year's, and we still have most of May and all of June to go – and those are usually very heavy disclosure months. We've already licensed twice as many startup companies this fiscal year as we did all of last year."
OTM evaluates technology disclosures and helps determine if the technology lends itself to spawning a startup company or if it would be better served by being licensed to an existing organization. If a startup company is feasible, OTM refers the inventor and technology to IllinoisVENTURES, which provides guidance and coordinates resources to get the company off the ground.
This "seamless system of resources at the University of Illinois is very sophisticated," Fritz said, and is comparable to the level of service provided by peer institutions like Stanford and MIT that have well-developed, successful technology commercialization programs that have been in place far longer than Illinois' program.
IllinoisVENTURES' proposed budget for the coming fiscal year, which begins July 1, is more than $4.1 million, more than double the $1.8 million budget it had for FY04.
IllinoisVENTURES, which has offices at the Chicago and Urbana-Champaign campuses, also recently established a new headquarters on North Wacker Drive in downtown Chicago.
Another startup company that has been working with IllinoisVENTURES and OTM for about a year is Renew Power, which is building a micro-fuel cell powered by formic acid – technology that was developed by Richard Masel, professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering.
"We have what you might call a demonstrator – a fuel cell integrated into a cell phone and it can basically power up the phone and we can talk on it," said Malcolm Man, director of product development.
The prototype is equivalent in size and power to a lithium-ion battery, but the company hopes to at least double the amount of power the cell generates and have commercial samples ready for niche markets in late-December 2005.
The company also is wrapping up a six-month project for the Department of Defense under a $98,000 grant from the Defense Advance Research Projects Agency, the research and development organization for the U.S. military. Although DARPA has not disclosed the intended use of the prospective energy source, the agency has suggested that it might be used for powering ground-target or surveillance sensors.
Renew Power, which sealed a deal for licensing the technology with the university and for funding from IlllioisVENTURES in August 2003, has grown to seven employees at its quarters in Enterprise Works and will probably move out of the technology incubator by the end of 2004, Man said.
"We're very amazed with the university, OTM and IllinoisVENTURES, and the speed that they were able to process the paperwork and licensing was incredible," Man said. "We're very happy with this relationship, and anything that they can help us with (we) just ask."