New SIU grants will help take inventions to market

By Carly O'Keefe - bio | email

CARBONDALE, IL (KFVS) - Today's tough economic climate has created many entrepreneurs - folks who grow a business out of a good idea.

Southern Illinois University is full of good ideas and new inventions that could become tomorrow's newest breakthrough. But they don't always successfully make the jump from the lab to the marketplace.

"We're trying to cross what researchers call the valley of death," said SIU Geology professor Dr. Ken Anderson. "There are a lot of good ideas out there that never make it to commercialization because they fall in."

Professor Anderson and his research crew are in a way working to reduce our country's dependence on oil. They have successfully recreated a precursor ingredient in making plastic without using petroleum.

"All kinds of everyday materials are made of petroleum - plastics, polymers," said Anderson. "If you've followed the price of petroleum over the past couple of years it's getting more and more expensive. So that means, the cost of everything from the clothes you're wearing, to the carpet you're standing on, to the plastic bags in the supermarket will get more and more expensive."

"What we've done is develop the technology to make the feed stocks to make those materials from coal or biomass, instead of petroleum," Anderson said.

Great idea... but getting that idea out of the lab and into the hands of investors takes more than brain power; it takes money. That's where many great ideas fall flat.

Professor Anderson and his team may have some help bridging the gap; a new program - called the Saluki Concept Fund - will give SIU research projects up to $20,000 to scale up their prototype to the level where companies will take note.

"To try to get products out into the marketplace, doing public good," said SIU senior technology transfer specialist Jeff Myers. "Getting them into the hands of those who can benefit from them and starting companies in our Research Park and here in the region. That will not only to develop the product, but spur economic development from companies starting here in our area."

Professor Anderson's started a small company in an attempt to cross that so-called "valley of death" and he says the Saluki Concept Fund may just be a life line to help him do it.

"It helps bridge that gap we've all suffered through and many have fallen into," said Anderson. "For some people, that'll be enough to get it done, some people that'll be the start to get us down the road. But it's heading in the right direction."

University officials say the new program won't use any Illinois state funding. The Saluki Concept grants will be funded through licensing revenue from previously successful university inventions.

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