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UMass Records Best-ever Year for Startup Businesses

AMHERST — The University of Massachusetts created six new startup companies within the past year, its best-ever annual performance, and set new records for patent applications and the number of faculty members disclosing inventions, President Robert Caret said.

The new companies reflect the university’s increased focus on coaching, mentoring, and providing other services and support to help researchers start businesses. Also, for the eighth straight year, UMass generated more than $30 million in licensing income, enough to ensure that the university maintains its perch in national surveys of universities with the highest licensing income derived from academic research.

“Our success is proof that the leading-edge research performed by our distinguished faculty and the high-performing students who work alongside them is growing every day in relevance and importance,” Caret said. “We want to accelerate these efforts because this research — and the new treatments, products, services, and companies it spawns — adds tremendous value to society and impacts the quality of life in Massachusetts.”

In addition to the six new startups, the UMass recorded 157 patent applications and 180 faculty invention disclosures for fiscal year 2014, which ended June 30. In all three categories, it was the university’s best-ever yearly performance. The university also was granted 54 patents for ideas that have the potential to be commercialized. UMass generated more than $31 million in licensing revenue in fiscal year 2014. The six companies spun out of UMass inventions this year were:

• Felsuma, “Geckskin Adhesive Technology,” by Al Crosby and Duncan Irshick, professors at UMass Amherst. Felsuma is commercializing a new technology, Geckskin, licensed from UMass Amherst. Geckskin is a three-dimensional, transformational adhesive that can attach and release repeatedly from multiple surfaces with high bonding strength. It is based on technology developed in the laboratories of Crosby in Polymer Science and Irschick in Biology. The major markets are large and include clothing, shoes, households, medical devices, military, and construction. The company is headed by Rana Gupta, an entrepreneur and former venture capitalist.

• Aha! Productions/Innovation Accelerator, “Obscure Features Hypothesis,” by Joseph McCaffrey from UMass Amherst. The company licenses UMass software technology that is useful in creativity and invention processes. The firm’s first product, Analogy Finder, offers a software package that seeks to rationalize the process of creativity and invention. The software seeks out analogous solutions to problems by hunting through patent databases, research libraries, and other sources. Innovation Accelerator is headed by James Pearson, an alumnus of UMass Amherst’s Mechanical and Engineering Department.

• Sonation, “Expert System for Musical Accompaniment,” by Chris Raphael from UMass Amherst. The company is developing music software technology that transforms singing and playing instruments into a more interactive, fun experience. It is creating apps that simulate playing with a full band or orchestra that listens and responds to the user’s style. The first product, Cadenza, is available at the iStore for use on the iPad. The product, to be introduced in the next two years, will expand the application to other devices, instruments, and available music. The company is headed by Ann Chao, a Harvard MBA and former strategy consultant.

• Voyager Therapeutics, “RNA Interference,” by Phil Zamore, Guangping Gao, Neil Aronin, and others at UMass Medical School. The company is developing gene-therapy methods to treat several important neurological diseases, including ALS, Parkinson’s disease, and Huntington’s disease. Voyager will focus on adeno-associated virus as the vector and will try to effect gene replacement or gene knockdown to effect the relevant protein production. The company, financed by $45 million in funding from a venture capitalist, will be located in Cambridge.

• TATT, LLC, “Use of siRNA to Preserve Organs for Transplant,” by Timothy Kowalik and Marc Uknis, professors at UMass Medical School. The company is based on technology, developed by Kowalik and Uknis, that relates to the use of siRNA to improve organs being used for transplantation by minimizing organ rejection, transplantation-mediated transmission of viral infection, and the triggering of apoptosis in transplanted tissue.

• Agalimmune Ltd., “Cancer Immunotherapy,” by Dr. Uri Galili from UMass Medical School. The company is developing innovative immunotherapies for the treatment of solid tumors based on Galili’s work. The company is based in London and California and has received initial funding from Loxbridge Research, LLP and Animatrix Capital, LLP. Dr. Giles Whalen, professor of Surgical Oncology at UMass Medical School, is working with the company to bring its first product, Alphaject Technology, to clinics.

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