SkyNano founder Anna Douglas

Six technology companies with ties to the Vanderbilt University School of Engineering have been awarded federal Small Business Innovation Research and Small Business Technology Transfer grants, as well as matching funds from public-private partnership Launch Tennessee totaling more than $3.8 million.

Created by the U.S. Small Business Administration, SBIR and STTR programs were designed to provide funding for early-stage innovation ideas — ideas that, however promising, are still too high risk for most private investors and venture capital firms. Funding takes the form of contracts or grants. Eligible projects must have the potential for commercialization and meet specific federal research and development needs.

The Wond’ry and the Center for Technology Transfer and Commercialization contributed to the startups’ growth in various capacities, from assisting with ideation and R&D to facilitating invention disclosures and commercialization services, according to a release.

The companies and amounts received:

  • ARMS Cyber, co-founded by brothers Brad Potteiger (MS ’16, PhD ’19) and Tim Potteiger (MS ’17). The company works on moving target defense, a new method of cybersecurity. The team also includes PhD candidate Patrick Musau (MS ‘20) and Michael Bryant (MBA ‘20), who is CEO. The company received $50,000 from both SBIR/STTR and Launch Tennessee.
  • EndoTheia, founded by mechanical engineering professor Robert Webster. The company — a collaborative effort among engineers, roboticists and clinicians — is developing next generation medical devices with more flexibility and dexterity for endoscopy. Patrick Andersen (PhD ‘20) is lead mechanical engineer. The company received $618,000 from SBIR/STTR and $300,000 from Launch Tennessee.
  • HeroWear, co-founded by Karl Zelik, associate professor of mechanical and biomedical engineering and physical medicine and rehabilitation. Its first product, Apex, is an exosuit for men and women built to reduce back strain. Matt Yandell (PhD ‘19) is chief innovation officer. The company received $50,000 from SBIR/STTR and $100,000 from Launch Tennessee.
  • SkyNano, founded by Anna Douglas (PhD ‘18). The company’s technology relies on electrochemistry, rather than solely catalysis, to efficiently convert atmospheric carbon dioxide into useful functional nanomaterials. SkyNano received $200,000 from SBIR/STTR and $100,000 from Launch Tennessee.
  • Virtuoso Surgical, Inc., co-founded by Webster. The Virtuoso system features a pair of instrument delivery arms that mimic a surgeon’s hands to offer greater control and dexterity to rigid endoscopic surgeries. The needle-size manipulators are nearly 10 times smaller than other robotic instruments. The company received $1.6 million from SBIR/STTR and $300,000 from Launch Tennessee.
  • YAYA Scientific, founded by Justin Baba, research associate professor of biomedical engineering. The company develops diagnostic, therapeutic and integrated hardware solutions, including for noninvasive detection and identification of nerves during surgery. YAYA received $333,000 from SBIR/STTR and $100,000 from Launch Tennessee.

CTTC worked with three of the companies — EndoTheia Inc., Virtuoso Surgical Inc. and Yaya Scientific LLC. ARMS Cyber Defense worked with the Wond’ry. HeroWear LLC and SkyNano LLC worked with both the Wond’ry and CTTC.

“Programs like Launch Tennessee’s SBIR/STTR matching fund grants are of immense importance to universities and research institutions in helping to leverage investments made by federal agencies through the SBIR and STTR programs,” said Peter Rousos, director of economic and new venture development at CTTC. “Matching fund grants have benefitted a significant number of startups that have their roots at Vanderbilt.”

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