Venture Grant hopefuls seek support teams

Help wanted drafting business plans and perfecting pitches

Logo of the NIU FoundationThe newly revamped NIU Foundation Venture Grants program moves into full swing Friday, Jan. 25, when five NIU faculty members will begin recruiting teams to help them move their inventions from concept to commercial reality.

The event is planned from 3:30 to 5:30 p.m. in the Thurgood Marshall Gallery of Swen Parson Hall.

Participating faculty, all of whom have been selected by the NIU Foundation Grants Committee and Northern Illinois Research Foundation, will vie for the services of NIU students, faculty and community members with expertise in communications, business and law. Interested volunteers will become part of team that will spend three months crafting business plans and product pitches that they hope will net their projects a grant of up to $20,000.

The teams will be aligned with mentors and coaches to guide them in those tasks. They will make practice pitches in early April before a panel of experts that will critique their efforts, and then face the NIU Foundation Grants Committee later that month.

One or more projects will be selected to divide the $40,000 total available in funding. The winning team(s) will have one year to spend the money and move the project closer to fruition.

NIU students from every college, and business professionals from across the region who might have an interest in mentoring teams, have been invited to attend the Jan. 25 kick-off event.

The changes in the program (which previously was a simple competitive application process) were inspired by the university’s Vision 2020 plan, which includes an emphasis on faculty research, technology commercialization and a commitment to experiential learning. The new format was devised by College of Law interns working under the Division of Research and Graduate Studies in collaboration with the NIU Foundation and Northern Illinois Research Foundation.

The five faculty and their projects are:

  • Behrooz Fallahi of the Department of Mechanical Engineering has created a self-tuning vibration absorber that could significantly reduce lateral vibration in train wheels. The product would allow trains to operate at higher speeds with less wheel damage.
  • Elizabeth Gaillard of the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry is developing a means of coating intraocular lenses (such as those used for cataract patients) with a thin film containing drugs which would be slowly released after the lens is implanted in an eyeball.
  • Lichuan  Liu of the Department of Electrical Engineering would use the grant to assist in the commercialization of a wireless communication noise control system for infant incubators. The device will reduce external noise in the incubator (caused by life-sustaining equipment) and allow for two-way communication between infant and parent.
  • Federico Sciammarella of the Department of Mechanical Engineeringhopes to use the grant to pursue partners in industry to adopt a computer-controlled laser technology process that he and colleagues developed to improve the machining of ceramic parts used in energy, transportation and metal-forming applications.
  • Mansour Tahernezhadi of the Department of Mechanical Engineering hopes to use the grant to assist in the development of technology that will improve sound quality in devices, such as cell phones, speaker phones and hearing aids, by suppressing echoes.

For more information, contact Diane Johnson at (815) 753-9469 or dianejohnson@niu.edu or Chris Pilling at (815) 753-8598 or cpilling@niu.edu.

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