Investors reward OSU technology entrepreneursPublished: Thursday, April 5, 2018 By: Journal Record Staff Source: The Journal Record
The odds of any technology startup succeeding are low, but it happens with a good idea, the drive of its founders and capital. What began as an Oklahoma State University engineering research project is now a growing venture with a product, eager customers and financiers who have invested more than $1.35 million in Plasma Bionics.
Started by a group of former OSU graduate students, the team behind Plasma Bionics developed a simple, mobile device to sterilize medical instruments. Kedar Pai and Chris Timmons, both OSU doctoral recipients and two of the company founders, have worked since 2012 to develop and test the system and identify target market needs. That work has been rewarded by investors.
Infant businesses, especially technology startups, live and die based on capital until a product is ready to market and begins to sell. Seed investments to get Plasma Bionics off the ground came from Cowboy Technologies, a part of the OSU Research Foundation, and grant funding from the Oklahoma Center for Advancement of Science and Technology.
Then the business really took off with the recent $1 million investment from a group of angel investors confident in Plasma Bionics’ potential despite the inherent risk of funding high-tech ventures. That financial boost reassured Pai and Timmons that they were on the right path and that years of work would pay off.
“When people are willing to invest the dollars, that validates what we believe – that this product is viable and the company will grow and become something big,” Pai said.
The PZ100 sterilizes medical instruments using plasma, or ionized air, which kills pathogens by destroying cell membranes, DNA and proteins. It operates at room temperature and requires only electricity. Other sterilization systems require high temperatures, steam, or harsh chemicals, making them costlier to operate and limiting where they can be used. A chief benefit of the PZ100 is its portability.
Originally, the plasma research began as a project for the U.S. Air Force led by Jamey Jacob, a mechanical and aerospace engineering professor, Pai, and other company founders. And as often happens with research, their work identified an entirely different use for plasma.
“The science started as a project where we were using plasma for flow control on aircraft wings,” Pai said. “But we actually found that our proprietary method of generating plasma could be useful for decontamination and disinfection.”
Pai and fellow students began experimenting with plasma sterilization and were introduced to Timmons, who earned a doctorate in plant pathology. His expertise in microorganisms was a valuable addition to the team.
Pai and Timmons developed the concept to the point it was time to protect it. They applied for and were granted a U.S. patent for the plasma generation technology and a unique sterilization chamber that are licensed