Welcome to the inaugural run of the Innovator of the Year awards.
Following are the stories of some of Long Island’s best and brightest ideas across an incredibly broad spectrum of innovation, from complex algorithms that plot medical targets for gene therapies to a brilliantly simple way to keep your wine glass free from grit at the beach.
In between are clean-energy inventions that will one day – and maybe not so far in the future – change the way we heat and cool our homes, dry lumber, build road beds and harness the oceans for energy and fresh water.
Our software awardees are intent on changing the way we will teach, build online consensus, duck telemarketers and spend our time in restaurant lines, while others are revolutionizing brand protection, medical scanning, food safety and the solar industry.
In keeping with Long Island’s historical roots in agriculture, we’re also toasting innovators in craft brewing, health and nutrition, plus a team of entrepreneurs who have figured out how to make sorbet from wine and liquor without losing the kick.
We’ve also singled out a few mentors to honor, serial do-gooders all, who have consistently found time and energy to help others move their ideas along the winding, always uphill, road to market.
Our honorees include first-time entrepreneurs, inveterate tinkerers and some who have made invention and innovation their careers. Their ideas may not all end up changing the world, but they are all making it a better place. We thought there should be an award for that.
Like Innovate Long Island itself, these awards would not be possible without the encouragement and financial support of our sponsors. Their company logos and congratulatory messages are displayed within the awards program, but allow me space for a sincere thank you to the universities, law and accounting firms, economic development organizations, foundations and individuals who believe, as we do, that innovation is the bedrock of Long Island’s once and future prosperity.
Their faith in that future is worthy of its own celebration.
Also, a sincere thank you to the tiny group of people who helped pull this off, including Event-Worxx’s Marlene McDonnell—herself a new entrepreneur
—Innovate LI scribe Gregory Zeller and photographer Bob Giglione, who was eluded by just two of our 47 honorees.
Finally, congratulations to the 2015 Innovators. As has been said many times before, ideas are easy – turning them into something is the hard part. We all applaud your courage and dedication.
– John Kominicki, Publisher
Sometimes, inspiration – and innovation – come from the darkest tragedies.
Marie Arturi lost her 7-month-old daughter in 1995 to diamond blackfan anemia, a rare blood disorder that stops bone marrow from producing red blood cells. Many parents facing such sadness would lose themselves in grief; Arturi found purpose.
Leaving behind a successful IT career, Arturi has spent nearly 20 years running the Daniella Maria Arturi Foundation, a fundraising-and-advocacy effort focused on DBA. Along the way, seeking a platform to thank and network with the many doctors and researchers who worked on her daughter’s case, Arturi invented Buncee, a “digital canvas” providing easy multimedia creativity for the technologically challenged.
The foundation has done well, raising nearly $50 million to date, but Buncee has done better still. By combining text, audio and graphics tools with numerous video applications, Buncee lets users share digital greeting cards and other unique messages via email or social media – a novel concept that not only carved an impressive niche in the e-greeting space, but has exceeded its original mandate with an increasingly successful foray into the American classroom.
This year, Arturi’s startup rolled out an education-specific platform called Buncee for Edu, including a dedicated website and accompanying app. Educators across the country – and 70 others – are now embracing the Calverton-based company’s communications tools, and so are education advocates, who’ve heaped several impressive awards on B for E. Among them: recognition as a 2015 Best App for Teaching & Learning by the American Association of School Librarians, a “Cool Tool” award from EdTech Digest, a reader’s choice nod from eSchool News and Best Free Web Tool honors in the 2014 Edublog Awards, a public-vote forum celebrating school-based digital initiatives.
The Buncee for Edu site includes a back-end administrative dashboard allowing instructors to create lesson plans, accept and grade student work and perform other basic teacher tasks. In a pivot from its original business plan, Buncee is now “80 to 90 percent focused on education,” according to Arturi, who credits the reset to a teacher friend who suggested the digital tool could be a big help with the Common Core State Standards Initiative, the controversial attempt to create a uniform national K-12 curriculum.
By cultivating relationships with teachers and school librarians – “the ones bringing new tech into schools today,” Arturi notes – Buncee is helping innovate the teacher-student relationship.
“We’re particularly pleased when we see how easy it is for students to grasp it,” Arturi says. “That’s the best part.”
SmartLine / CharityWait
SmartLine also shares daily specials and other menu information, and allows guests to notify the restaurant about party-specific needs – allergy concerns or the need for a booster seat, for instance. CharityWait goes a step further by giving guests the option of making a small charitable donation (the restaurant picks the charity) in exchange for a shorter wait. If they choose not to donate, they still see the specials and receive a text when their table is ready. But if they gift the charity, they move to the front of the line.
One of the first residents of LaunchPad Long Island’s Great Neck facility, Reitman’s SmartLine/CharityWait team, which got its start in Reitman’s Sands Point basement, has been backed by the Long Island Angel Network and Angel Dough Ventures. The hefty six-figure investment was key to the CharityWait launch – and once he heard Reitman’s pitch, a complete no-brainer, according to Angel Dough CEO Andrew Hazen.
“I knew in an instant I’d pay $20 to skip to the front of the line, especially knowing the money goes to charity,” Hazen notes. He’s not the only one. More than 150 restaurants signed up for CharityWait before the app went live this year, including a Hard Rock Café in Australia. Ultimately, Reitman – cofounder of Hope For Hope, a nonprofit dedicated to providing clean water, proper nutrition and safe shelter to children around the world – plans to see his charity-focused reservation system in thousands of international restaurants. And he’s thrilled that Long Island is his innovation epicenter – although, without the LaunchPad opportunity, that probably wouldn’t have happened.
“I definitely like the fact that we get to work within the Long Island community,” Reitman says. “But there’s no real co-working space available, outside of what LaunchPad is doing. Without them, we probably would have wound up in Brooklyn.”
There are some very frustrated robots out there, thanks to Aaron Foss. At least, robotic dialers. That’s due to Foss’ latest startup, Port Jefferson-based Nomorobo, which answers thousands and thousands of telemarketing and robocalls every day. And promptly hangs up on them.
How many? More than 42 million through mid-October, and counting.
Don’t be surprised by Nomorobo’s success. Foss’ last startup, a sightseeing platform called SideTour, was acquired by online-deals giant Groupon in 2013, so he knows how to get to The Show. The sale gave Foss time and money to think up something new, and what he envisioned was a cloud-based software suite for defeating robodialers.
Consumers add their number to the Nomorobo service via an easy-to-use Internet portal and the technology takes over from there, cutting off unwanted calls after a single ring.
For all its inventiveness, Nomorobo wouldn’t be kicking robotic butt quite so thoroughly without the help of the Federal Communications Commission. This summer, the FCC introduced new rules giving telecommunications companies wider latitude for blocking robocalls and spam texts.
Nomorobo was one of two dozen companies lobbying the FCC to block the overwhelmingly unwanted communications, and in a scene worthy of “Miracle on 34th Street,” Foss showed up at a January FCC hearing lugging 25,000 complaint letters from local consumers.
The new rules have led to a surge in customer sign-ups for the free service, and the company’s list of supported carriers has grown to include AT&T, Comcast, Optimum, Time Warner Cable, Verizon and Vonage, among other telecommunications heavy-hitters.
Nomorobo’s technology, which won a 2013 Federal Trade Commission contest and its $50,000 prize, has also been backed by private investors. Now, Foss is developing premium features, including call logs showing consumers exactly who Nomorobo has blocked, plus customized blocking that allows certain telemarketers through, at the customer’s request.
But Foss, who also teaches entrepreneurship at Molloy College, is hesitant to tinker too much with a good thing.
“It was always part of the plan to provide a premium service, but do I really want to charge consumers for the extras?” he says. “I’m not sure I do, especially since we’re doing so well licensing the black list to service companies.”
On behalf of consumers everywhere, thank you, sir.
Jamie Proctor, Chris Monteleone
A real-time social sentiment platform that combines two of the most popular features of the Internet age, the comments section and the like/don’t-like poll? An increasing number of retailers, marketing strategists and journalists have just one question: Where do we sign? And sign on they have to Sweigh, a September 2013 startup that’s delivering virtual gold to anyone interested in knowing what The People are thinking. By letting users create their own polls, the interactive platform is giving bloggers, business owners and website producers a glimpse into the mind of the masses, while helping users boost site traffic and social-sharing.
Cofounders Chris Monteleone – a former managing director for national partnerships at iHeartMedia – and onetime JPMorgan Chase executive Jamie Proctor have already tinkered with their Centerport-based platform, which they originally conceived as a mobile app. Sweigh, they quickly realized, works much better as an online service – a “mechanical solution with a pretty deep back-end analytics tools,” according to Monteleone.
By letting users not only select an A or B response but also explain why, the system essentially formulates public sentiment in real time. The entrepreneurs, who ponied up $70,000 of their own money to get the startup off the ground, have had no problem selling the concept: They’ve subsequently raised over $1.1 million, with Cablevision’s Dolan clan as their No. 1 investor to date.
The partners have now embarked on a funding round targeting $5 million more, money they’ll use to dramatically increase their marketing operations and bring software development in-house. Coming soon: a “targeted ad platform” that serves as a sentiment search engine, followed by a full data-management platform that dives deep into the collected data.
Sweigh widgets can already be found on websites owned by large publishers like Totl Media and digital empire CPXi. All told, Sweigh – which this summer turned a monthly profit for the first time – is looking to connect with producers that generate over 500 million unique visits every month.
And the more unique visitors Sweigh lands in front of, the better chance it has to influence subscribers.
“You’re talking about collecting in a given month anywhere from 250,000 to 5 million unique opinions,” Monteleone says. “The lifeblood of our business is getting those votes.”
LaunchPad Long Island
If there’s a poster boy for the Long Island innovation economy, it must be Andrew Hazen.
Hazen’s Angel Dough Ventures, a Hicksville-based incubator and accelerator that generates revenue by manufacturing bobblehead dolls and tracking online retail deals, cracked the top 100 on this year’s Inc. magazine list of the nation’s fastest-growing companies.
Angel Dough ranked No. 72 after growing a tidy 4,063 percent between 2012 and 2014.
Hazen, of course, has been there before, making the list twice with Prime Visibility, an Internet search firm he launched while still in school. And then there’s LaunchPad, Hazen’s successful chain of co-working facilities, now with five locations and more in the works.
He’s also co-chair of the Long Island Angel Network and of counsel to law firm Ruskin Moscou Faltischek, where he works with both the corporate & securities and digital media practice groups.
Most recently, Hazen has helped organize, and co-chair, teams of technology executives who advise Long Island’s two county executives on tech-related economic development, workforce issues and other matters. And, if you haven’t heard, Hazen is one of Long Island’s most active buyers and sellers in the domain name trade.
At heart, however, he’s an investor, always looking for the next good deal, especially if it’s a company that happens to do good. (Just one example: CharityWait.)
A close observer of LI’s rapidly expanding bioscience, clean energy and craft food and beverage sectors, Hazen praises the high-level graduates coming out of the Island’s colleges and universities and the growing tide of startups spinning out of the region’s research laboratories. He’s also a big fan of the tax-free commercial zones created by Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s Start-Up NY initiative. And he readily notes the “benefits of living on Long Island,” including theaters, beaches and easy city access.
But “I don’t think everything that can be done is being done” to emphasize Long Island’s commercial and residential advantages, Hazen says, and until it is, the regional economy will remain at risk.
At risk, but with plenty of room for improvement.
“I’m very hopeful about Long Island’s innovation economy,” he says. “I think we can identify our niche and then get down to what’s really needed – affordable housing that keeps young people here.”
Applied DNA Sciences
It’s been a busy year for Stony Brook biotech firm Applied DNA Sciences, and for this next-level California transplant, that’s saying something.
Forever teetering on the cutting edge – its science and its business acumen are both state-of-the-art – Applied DNA’s 2015 has been extra scintillating, a blur of prestigious index listings and distribution deals and even a corporate acquisition that expands its scope to other vertical markets. And that’s just in the last four months.
It starts with the science. Primarily through its patented SigNature DNA protocols, Applied DNA Sciences creates security solutions ideal for supply-chain protection, brand protection and law enforcement; its invisible plant DNA-based markers can’t be washed off, not even by “aggressive industrial-treatment baths,” according to the company’s website.
The unique anti-counterfeiting and anti-theft protocols have attracted plenty of attention from law enforcers and potential partners. Most recent was a partnership with Sacramento, Calif.-based Security Marketing Resource, a marketing and online training firm that could potentially introduce Applied DNA Science’s products to 12,000 U.S. police departments and another 14,000 private security firms.
That collaboration, announced in October, continued Applied DNA Science’s 2015 hot streak, which has also included placement on investor-index publisher FTSE Russell’s Microcap Index; the approval of another California company as a “certified print partner” capable of providing customers with SigNature DNA-based labeling solutions; the signing of a five-year exclusivity agreement with UK firm Patronus Systems, which supplies European ATM machines; and a number of other distribution deals across the nation.
In September, Applied DNA Sciences also announced its first corporate takeoever, acquiring the assets of West Virginia-based Vandalia Research. The $1.5 million cash deal included Vandalia’s core DNA-sequencing technology and related IP, as well as Vandalia’s contracts with pharmaceutical and biotech customers.
It also allows Applied DNA Sciences to mass-produce specific DNA sequences and longer DNA strands, which CEO James Hayward – a two-time Inc. Magazine Entrepreneur of the Year who took Applied DNA’s reins in 2005 and immediately relocated the Golden State firm to Long Island – says could ultimately prove useful to gene therapy and DNA-based vaccination efforts.
The impressive flurry of activity has become par for the course for Hayward’s innovative enterprise, which produces science the CEO says is applicable to “every citizen and corporation in the United States.”
Maria Luisa Pineda, Martin Akerman
Founded in 2013, the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory spinoff Envisagenics really found itself in 2015.
This was the year cofounder and CTO Martin Akerman finished programming the data-cruncher’s proprietary software package, the very-cool-sounding SpliceCore; the year the firm started adding heavy-hitting researchers and scientific advisors; and, making all that possible, the year investors really took notice of the immense potential in the vision shared by Akerman and CEO Maria Luisa Pineda.
In July, Envisagenics – which uses proprietary algorithms to reduce the complexity of biological datasets resulting from ribonucleic acid sequencing – received a $100,000 boost from Accelerate Long Island and the Long Island Emerging Technologies Fund. That happy news was followed in August by a $225,000 Phase 1 Small Business Innovation Research Award from the National Institutes of Health, Envisagenics’ largest capital infusion to date.
And the LaunchPad Huntington resident may not be done announcing capital infusions. Pineda says their startup is seeking strategic investors “interested in the RNA market” and anticipates a “significant” Series A round.
Investor interest is hardly surprising, considering the enormity of the bio-data market. Pineda points to a $1.2 billion RNA therapeutics market and a fast-growing $1.7 billion “transfertomics” market, which focuses on next-gen sequencing and other medical data.
Also of great interest to potential investors: Pineda and Akerman pack serious scientific chops. Pineda’s undergraduate studies were covered by an endowment from the Atlanta-based Goizueta Foundation; she also received an NIH fellowship through the Minority Access to Research Careers program and earned a PhD from CSHL’s Watson School of Biological Sciences.
Akerman, a biologist specializing in infectious diseases, earned his PhD in bioinformatics – as well as his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in biology – from the Technion, Israel’s national technology institute. His postdoctoral work has earned over 300 citations and dozens of scientific journal references, while his software suites are used by hundreds of scientists, particularly in the field of cancer research.
They’ve used their summer windfalls to hire a software engineer and muscle up their investigative team, including the additions of bioinformatician Gunnar Rätsch of the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Institute for Cancer Research and CSHL professor Adrian Krainer, an expert on the cancer implications of alternative-splicing mechanisms.
As it rolls out its SpliceCore software and cloud-based analysis tools, expect the young firm to make headlines for its unparalleled ability to interpret information extracted from the human genome, shedding new light on the causes of – and potential cures for – numerous diseases.
“This will help researchers around the world translate next-generation data into basic scientific discoveries that create lower-risk drug targets,” Pineda notes. “Hopefully, all this innovation and technology will serve a great purpose.”
Despite the availability of effective testing methods, the United States does a relatively poor job of checking food and water for potentially hazardous bacteria, and much-too-frequent E. coli outbreaks and national product recalls prove it.
With its first serious reform of food-safety laws in nearly seven decades slowly kicking in, the federal government is finally doing something about it. Racing ahead of this curve is CEO Noel Goddard and her Calverton-based Goddard Labs, which is developing a handheld device to bring effective monitoring to field and stream.
Among the problems with current testing standards: They take too long and cost too much. Goddard’s innovative approach eliminates the need for culturing – growing sample organisms in a lab, often several times over, to detect which bacteria may be lurking where – with a clever field test that ditches much of the laboriously slow lab work.
Goddard’s hourglass-shaped device produces ready-for-molecular-testing samples in hours instead of weeks – a potentially enormous saver of time and money for farmers and federal inspectors alike.
The idea is not to police the U.S. agricultural industry, Goddard notes, but to empower it, literally putting in the farmer’s hand the power to stop an outbreak before it occurs.
“This is going to be a low-scale-level product,” she says. “It’s meant to be something that standard quality-control personnel can use with minimal training, not something that’s used in a laboratory.”
A resident of Stony Brook University’s Business Incubator at Calverton, three-year-old Goddard Labs is still several months away from hard-core validation testing. But as the new federal regulations roll out, Goddard’s startup – thanks in no small part to the many agricultural and water samples available across Eastern Long Island – figures to capitalize nicely on the new protocols safeguarding what Americans eat.
“A good way to think about it is when you get a blood test,” she says. “You fill multiple glass tubes with blood, and that’s a sample prep for a molecular diagnostic. We’d like to be that step in the food world: a simple, low-cost, high-volume consumable for frequent collection.”
Positron-emission tomography produces detailed images of the body’s functional processes by tracking gramma rays emitted by an injected, molecule-sized tracer. SynchroPET, Marc Alessi’s 2013 startup, takes it to the cutting edge by combining four technologies licensed from Brookhaven National Laboratory: a miniaturized imaging scanner, a PET insert for magnetic-resonance imaging machines, a microchip-based PET scanner that replaces more common room-sized machines with a handheld (or smaller) device, and a breast MRI-PET dual-imaging scanner that promises to reduce false-positive findings.
It’s all synchronized into one “platform technology,” according to Alessi, who cites the dual-imaging capabilities as the next Holy Grail of internal medicine.
“MRIs deliver much better anatomical information on exactly where a tumor is,” Alessi says. “But a PET scan can tell you if there’s cancer in your body long before a tumor is present. Simultaneous applications have a lot of advantages.”
SynchroPET’s ability to combine PET scans with MRIs and other scanning technologies produces simultaneous business advantages as well. For one thing, the technology is applicable to both research and treatment protocols: The miniature rat-brain scanner and small PET insert both focus on pre-clinical applications, useful for drug research, while the drastically shrunken PET scanner and the MRI-PET dual-imaging scanner are both ideal for use on human patients.
And since the microchip-based technology eliminates thousands of wires and components normally associated with interpreting PET-scan data, it’s “very scalable,” according to Alessi, and “a lot more versatile than any other PET scanner on the market.”
This fall, Alessi’s 2013 startup took a huge step toward commercialization by siting its first PET scanner inside Stony Brook Medicine’s Division of Laboratory Animal Research. The critical shakedown cruise promises to be the first of a number of test installations at “beta sites,” the CEO notes, helping SynchroPET scientists – including CTO David Smith, a nuclear scientist who helped develop those BNL technologies, and major-league advisors such as Harvey Brofman and Kevin Hessilberg – fine-tune their customizable machines before a global 2016 rollout.
A corporate attorney and former state legislator, Alessi is no scientist. But he understands the potential applications of these groundbreaking technologies – and as a seasoned entrepreneur (SynchroPET is not his first startup, nor his last), he knows a winner when he sees it.
Not just a financial winner, either, but a science with the potential to revolutionize “everything from Alzheimher’s research to cancer research,” he notes.
“There are a number of researchers at Stony Brook University who’d like to use our machines,” Alessi says. “And there’s already interest in our devices worldwide.”
Clinton Rubin, Diane Fabel
Stony Brook University Center for Biotechnology
As a catalyst for the development and commercialization of biomedical technologies, the Center for Biotechnology at Stony Brook University has a 30-year track record as an economic innovator, having played a role in all six of the FDA-approved pharmaceuticals developed within the SUNY system and its breakthrough 3-D virtual colonoscopy.
Hundreds of other innovators have received support and mentoring from the center over the years, helping launch breakthrough therapeutics, diagnostics and biomedical devices.
And it’s work that will continue for another decade, thanks to a recent refunding commitment by the state’s science and technology foundation.
That’s in part due to the newly formed Long Island Bioscience Hub – a forward-looking effort that unites SBU, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory and Brookhaven National Laboratory in the pursuit of scientific and economic advancement.
“It’s really exciting,” notes Diane Fabel, the center’s director of operations and de facto boss of the Bioscience Hub. “Capitalizing on the new discoveries being made has opened up so many avenues for new therapeutics, new diagnostics, new preventative medicines and new medical devices.”
Running the center and the hub is busy work, to be sure: Some of the biggest biotech breakthroughs of the last several decades have come from those three institutions, and Fabel points to “an explosion of innovation in the life sciences, particularly on the biomedical side, over the last 15 years.”
The center’s director, Clinton Rubin, is a SUNY distinguished professor and chairman of SBU’s Department of Biomedical Engineering. Among other accomplishments, the namesake of the university’s Rubin Musculoskeletal Research Laboratory is known for his osteoporosis research, including the future impact of space travel.
Rubin is also an elected fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, which recognized his academic contributions in biomedical engineering.
That’s exactly the kind of innovative thinking the Center for Biotechnology is meant to encourage – and with medical science embracing innovation on an unprecedented scale, the kind of thinking that makes Rubin the perfect bridge between the academic and commercial worlds.
And that’s another reason the center has moved from investing exclusively in faculty research to co-investing with New York State in the development of
promising technologies with commercial potential, on campus or off.
While working to provide cheap, clean electricity for all mankind, Ramuel Maramara’s Brimes Energy is taking a swing at another inconvenient truth for humanity: Earth’s freshwater supply is limited.
Focused primarily on turning the power inherent in undulating ocean waves into electricity, Maramara’s 2014 startup confirmed this year that its gyroscopic “artificial jellyfish” device has a potentially enormous side benefit: desalination.
“We knew we could do it,” says Maramara, a native Filipino who immigrated to the United States in 2005 and has built multiple successful businesses, including Holbrook machine-maker Brimes Industrial Inc. and East Asia Mechatronics, an industrial machinist back in the Philippines. “But we didn’t tell anybody until we started testing.”
Now Brimes Energy, a member of the Clean Energy Business Incubator Program at Stony Brook University, has two game-changing focuses. Both must undergo extensive testing before Maramara can save the world, and the artificial jellyfish must be re-engineered for desalination purposes, which are not its original intent.
Still, Maramara has some big ideas about his proprietary technology’s commercial potential. The global promise of a device that perfects affordable wave energy is staggering, so too are the ramifications of a cheap, effective desalination device.
For example, Maramara can’t help but wonder how a ready freshwater supply might change things for the 700 islands comprising the greater Bahamas, 95 percent of which are uninhabited due to a lack of potable water. Or in his native Philippines, where “the freshwater supply is becoming saltier and saltier.”
The salting of freshwater wells is occurring on Long Island, too, and as humanity continues to multiply, insufficient freshwater supplies will soon be everyone’s problem – just as electricity is a growing concern now.
Brimes Energy is still about three years away from producing a commercially viable wave-based generator, but investor interest is growing, and that was before the jellyfish revealed its desalination skills.
The Department of Energy and the U.S. Navy, meanwhile, are both throwing resources into wave-energy research, and Brimes Energy is not alone when it comes to jockeying for position. The idea, Maramara notes, is to get there first.
SulfCrete, a stronger, more environmentally friendly alternative to traditional concrete, is about to redefine an industry that is “under siege” for gobbling up unsustainable amounts of energy and water while releasing nearly 10 percent of all global greenhouse gasses.
That’s the view, at any rate, of SulfCrete CEO William Biamonte, whose sulfur polymer construction material, a formula licensed from Brookhaven National Lab, promises three times the strength of Portland cement, requires no water and has a minimal carbon footprint.
No surprise there’s “great interest” among investors, particularly with global construction efforts hitting a fever pitch.
Poised to cash in is Biamonte’s Melville-based startup, which holds eight international patents, including exclusive SulfCrete rights in the United States, the Russian Federation and China.
While the commercialization prospects are just now heating up, the science behind SulfCrete dates to the 1970s, when the U.S. Bureau of Mines invented a crude sulfur polymer in an effort to recycle waste from various mining applications. It took Brookhaven scientists years to perfect the recipe, including research with fellow scientists in Kazakhstan.
Now Green SulfCrete is looking to use that science to rebuild the construction industry, and it’s getting plenty of help. In 2014, the startup won a $150,000 grant from the National Science Foundation to continue its work, followed by a $100,000 investment from regional business booster Accelerate Long Island and the Long Island Emerging Technologies Fund.
Green SulfCrete has also had serious sit-downs with oil and concrete companies, according to Biamonte, who says major investors are ready to commit as soon as his startup proves it can scale production.
To show that SulfCrete works in large structures – highway dividers, for instance – Biamonte’s business is out raising $5 million for a pilot production plant, to be built in conjunction with BNL and Stony Brook University, where Green SulfCrete is a member of the Clean Energy Business Incubator Program.
CEBIP Executive Director Dave Hamilton says Green SulfCrete has the best chance of all CEBIP members to be “hugely successful” – pure music to Biamonte, who gleefully notes his startup has exclusive licensing rights to the sulfur polymer technology through 2035 and can “sublicense it in a thousand different directions.”
“Our model is to prove it scales,” Biamonte says, “then we can create a center of excellence on Long Island where we continue to improve the technology.”
ThermoLift CEO Paul Schwartz must enjoy checking his to-do list these days.
Yes, his 2012 startup – a resident of the Advanced Energy Research and Technology Center at Stony Brook University – has lots to do before it fully realizes his dream of an affordable, natural gas-powered heating and cooling unit that makes green energy universally available. But this year’s progress has been significant.
ThermoLift’s big 2015 started with the addition of Adrian Tusinean, a mechanical engineering whiz who worked with ThermoLift cofounder Peter Hofbauer at EcoMotors, a Bill Gates-funded Michigan company developing advanced engine prototypes. The good news continued in July, when ThermoLift closed a VC round totaling $2.75 million, including bridge loans from Roslyn-based Topspin Partners and a buy-in by the Long Island Angel Network.
The big round marked the latest funding success for the firm, which Schwartz and Hofbauer – Volkswagen’s former head of engine and power-train development – launched with a $75,000 seed investment by private investors including Robert Catell, the former National Grid and KeySpan exec now heading the AERTC. Topspin was also an early supporter, while research grants from the U.S. Department of Energy and NYSERDA helped.
The funding has led the company deep into the production of its second-generation pump, a single device that heats and cools air and water and has the potential to reduce commercial and residential energy consumption by up to 50 percent, in addition to considerable up-front savings over the combination of systems currently providing air conditioning, heating and hot water for homes and businesses.
Working off six different patents, designers learned a “plethora” of things from the phase-one demonstrator model, Schwartz notes, including manufacturing and electronics solutions. They’re applying that knowledge to the Gen 2 device, which is scheduled to undergo testing at Tennessee’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory over the first quarter of 2016.
The second phase is also benefiting from the wisdom of the Gas Technology Institute, a Chicago-based R&D and training organization serving the U.S. natural gas industry. Engineers from the GTI, which entered into a collaborative agreement with ThermoLift in September, are contributing designs and hardware that should make it into the second prototype in time for Oak Ridge, and for field testing of up to 20 units later next year.
Long Island is bustling with tech startups, but what sets Triglia Technologies apart is its focus: It’s not developing pharmaceuticals or designing software suites, and while it does have an energy-efficiency bent, its focus – drying wood – sounds something less than cutting-edge.
But don’t discount the ecological benefits of a propriety technology that can prepare lumber in a fraction of the time it takes conventional methods, notes CEO Joseph Triglia, or the massive scientific chops it takes to do it.
Triglia Technologies, a member of the Clean Energy Business Incubator Program at Stony Brook University, is developing a combined microwave-radio frequency wood-drying machine that could cut lumber-prep energy usage by 67 percent and reduce drying time from the traditional 60 days to just one – a breathtaking prospect for the multi-billion-dollar construction trades.
It’s not as easy as it sounds. Microwaves and radio frequencies, which both work well in pre- and post-drying scenarios, tend to nullify each other. So the trick is to segregate the waves and frequencies “and still be able to combine them.”
That requires development of a special chamber that can not only encourage the best wood-drying benefits of both, but will accommodate everything from woodchips to “dimensional lumber,” such as your typical two-by-four, in bulk quantities.
Triglia has several international patents pending – he already holds a U.S. patent for a microwave-based method of straightening wine barrel staves into floor boards – and is understandably hesitant to reveal too much about his technology.
Still, everyone from NYSERDA – which in July backed Triglia Technologies’ R&D efforts to the tune of $250,000 – to the Long Island Angel Network, one of several organizations Triglia has pitched in his efforts to secure a $400,000 opening funding round, is paying attention.
The startup has bolstered its science advisory board and hired a full-time microwave engineer, further positioning itself for greatness. It’s been a slow process, but stay tuned, says Accelerate Long Island exec Mark Lesko, who also heads innovation at Hofstra University.
“This is a really great model for developing startup investment opportunities on Long Island,” Lesko says. “You’ve got a talented founder, an interesting idea and, in CEBIP, an organization that can really provide the support to get them to the point where they’re investment-ready.”
Clean Energy Mentor
Clean Energy Business Incubator Program
October marks four years at Stony Brook University’s Clean Energy Business Incubator Program for Dave Hamilton, who in July succeeded Anil Dhundale as executive director after three years as head of CEBIP’s business development effort.
In Hamilton, CEBIP has an exec with a true economic-development pedigree. Packing an MBA in marketing from Hofstra University and a trench-level view of Long Island energy and commercialization issues, the former commercial account manager at Island Park’s EmPower Solar understands from experience the challenges facing startup businesses, particularly tech startups.
“Some fail, some are successful, but either way, you don’t always see the forest for the trees,” he notes.
That’s why Hamilton – himself a veteran of five different startups, including Empower Solar – considers himself first and foremost a “facilitator.” If he’s learned one thing working for all those from-scratch companies, CEBIP among them, it’s that running a new business is a time-consuming endeavor and entrepreneurs need all the help they can get.
“I’m not the brilliant guy who changes all of their business plans,” Hamilton says. “I’m the facilitator who finds the right people and gets them where they need to go.”
If he’s the facilitator, that makes CEPIB the facility – or, in this case, a networking hub that’s critical to the success of its members. Hamilton takes pride in CEBIP’s innovations to date and praises Dhundale for keeping a steady hand on the wheel.
“We started this thing from scratch,” he says. “Where the program stands, everything we offer, all the services we bring and how the entire thing is being run – it’s been very well done.”
New title aside, Hamilton’s job is to continue putting clients with the right people and providing the support services they need to succeed. It’s double the challenge at times like these, when oil prices are down and alternative energies have lost some of their luster, but such challenges are cyclical, Hamilton notes.
And at the end of the day, it’s the members themselves doing all the hard work.
“I’m very, very proud of our clients,” Hamilton says.
FOOD & BEVERAGE
Keren Gilbert, Jonathan Gilbert
With a diet plan, a book, a steady TV following and a line of beneficial bagels, dietician Keren Gilbert has become the nutrition queen of all media.
Her husband and business partner, investment banker Jonathan Gilbert, isn’t surprised.
“Keren is just too talented,” he says. But the public face of skyrocketing Great Neck startup Decision Nutrition – and the brains behind its science-meets-sentiment code – had her doubts.
Unexpectedly pregnant six years ago with the couple’s third child, the registered dietician and certified nutritionist felt professionally unfulfilled. Her determination to not become “a lady who just lunches all the time” fuels Decision Nutrition to this day.
Belly bulging with Baby No. 3, Keren built a website, outlined a dietary plan and dove in. The practice started slowly, but as a handful of early clients slimmed down, word of mouth grew.
Keren’s 12-week HD Diet incorporates “water-loving” foods like oats, beans and spinach and a healthy helping of chia seeds, nutrient-dense hydro-boosters that control cravings and promote digestive health.
Keren and Jonathan soon cut a deal with Roslyn shop Bagel Boss, which made chia bagels to order, with Jonathan distributing them from the back of his car. The Gilberts are now developing a line of Decision Nutrition products with Deer Park distributor Optima Foods.
Meanwhile, Keren’s dietary consultancy is expanding, and the accredited member of the American Dietetic Association regularly lends her healthy-living expertise to TV shows including “Today” and “Access Hollywood.” She also dropped her first book, “The HD Diet: Achieve Lifelong Weight Loss with Chia Seeds and Other Hydrophilic Foods,” in January.
This summer, the dynamic husband-and-wife duo even launched a new side business: Decision Fitness, managed by Jonathan, who’s also a certified personal trainer.
While she acknowledges her “really supportive partner,” Keren admits she’s still occasionally floored by Decision Nutrition’s meteoric rise. Jonathan, naturally, takes it in stride.
“Talk to me again in a year,” he says, “and Keren will be twice as popular.”
John Pastore, Joseph Gagliano, Neil Koenig, Ben Amato
Frosae Wine Sorbea
You might imagine that people who turn booze into sweet frozen desserts generally enjoy themselves, and the makers of Frosae Wine Sorbea don’t disappoint.
President Ben Amato can’t stifle a devilish giggle when he notes his company’s top-secret method for freezing wine and rum without sacrificing the alcohol content.
“Nobody else knows how!” he beams.
When he describes the brand’s flavors – the chocolate merlot sorbet, the spiced rum soft-serve, the chocolate egg cream microbrew parfait – his enthusiasm bubbles over like a well-shaken beer.
And when he discusses the vertical-market possibilities for his 2012 startup, Amato can barely contain himself.
While 2015 was a pretty good year for the company – including a distribution deal that landed Frosae products in the frozen-food aisle at ShopRite and another that placed them on menus inside One World Observatory, the three-level tourist site atop NYC’s Freedom Tower – 2016 promises to be the year the East Patchogue-based enterprise breaks through.
“We just have to find the right niche,” Amato says.That’s been the biggest challenge to date. Virtually everyone loves the frozen desserts – which according to the New York State Liquor Authority qualify as food, not liquor, since they contain less than 5 percent alcohol – but getting retailers to dish them out isn’t easy, according to the president.
“They haven’t heard of it,” he says. “So they won’t take a chance.”
Undaunted, the Frosae brain trust – Amato’s partners Joseph Gagliano, Neil Koenig and John Pastore – is working up a new distribution strategy for 2016. Citing unqualified success at Jones Beach – where concession manager J&B Food Services sold out a supply of nearly 7,000 Frosae cups this summer – the company will “concentrate on beaches, country clubs and resorts,” Amato notes, while still targeting supermarkets. It’s also considering a food truck, to generate media exposure in the city and visit vineyards across Long Island Wine Country.
Meanwhile, the company will rely on Brewster-based distributor Ace Endico, which delivers Frosae to the Freedom Tower, to spread the word among the 2,000 white-linen restaurants on its East Coast delivery route.
“By getting into the Freedom Tower, we’ve connected with a major distributor,” Amato says. “Considering we don’t have a marketing campaign, it’s fairly amazing how far we’ve come.
“It’s not every day you invent a new food.”
Brad Darrohn, John Monderine, Sean Martin, Daniel Kiernan
LI Brew Bus
One of the best innovations across Long Island’s burgeoning microbrew scene has nothing to do with the beers themselves. And yet everything.
Brad Darrohn of Bohemia-based online marketing firm Fishbat enjoys craft brews, the kind cooked up in small batches by local aficionados like himself. He’s a big fan of the Island’s thriving microbrew culture, too, and was one of several friends who lamented the fact that there was no way to safely drive from brewpub to brewpub on Long Island – at least, not by car.
Darrohn’s solution: The LI Brew Bus, a retrofitted 1998 Blue Bird school bus taking riders on guided tours of Long Island microbreweries in an expanding radius around Ronkonkoma, where the weekend excursions originate.
While the early tours went well, with stops at popular Island breweries such as Holbrook’s Spider Bite Brewing Co. and Bay Shore’s Great South Bay Brewery, the brains behind the operation – including school bus company veteran Sean Martin, Daniel Kiernan and Fishbat cofounder John Monderine – tinkered with the formula fairly regularly, streamlining operations and adding new attractions.
They also plotted a few extracurricular trips, including a special Friday voyage to a fusion rock/reggae concert at The Paramount in Huntington, one of the most-crowded trips in the Brew Bus’s early history. Another unscheduled stop: BeerFields 2015 at the Pennysaver Amphitheater at Bald Hill in Farmingville, a chance to park the Bew Bus at a microbrew-focused festival and market directly to the target audience.
The LI Brew Bus has also employed some addition by subtraction, cutting short Darrohn’s loudspeaker lessons on beer history and the science of hops and just letting passengers enjoy the ride. Anyone who wants to learn more can check out the pre-made videos looping on the Brew Bus’s flat-screen televisions; Darrohn & Co. have also streamlined the online ticket-buying process and taken other steps to increase the enterprise’s user-friendliness.
And it’s working: Darrohn notes that Brew Bus expenditures are already being covered by ticket sales, so while he hesitates to call the innovative startup a hit before it’s sufficiently fermented, it’s clearly on a roll.
“We’re not going into the bank account and we definitely still have money in the bank,” Darrohn says. “So I guess you could say we’ve been successful so far.”
Lauri Spitz, Matthew Spitz
Moustache Brewing Co.
Since successfully Kickstarting their Riverhead microbrewery in April 2014, entrepreneurs Lauri and Matthew Spitz have certainly grown their Moustache.
Now with four times the fermenting capacity – 19 barrels, or 589 gallons per batch – the craft brewers have also doubled the taps in their Hallett Avenue tasting room. They had one flagship porter when they opened; it’s four now, with a fifth on the way.
Perhaps most impressively, the husband-and-wife team has learned to play the game of hops. Hops are what Lauri calls a “rough commodity,” particularly with all the microbreweries popping up across the country. To get the best crops, you have to contract in advance with hops-growers – years in advance, in some cases.
Their solution: The “guinea pig series,” Lauri says, in which Moustache Brewing Co. tries a variety of hops it’s never used before or otherwise goes a little nutty – literally, in the case of its hazelnut coffee porter – and cooks up small batches for testing purposes.
“Our way around it was saying, ‘We’ll take what we can get and work with that,’” Lauri says.
As a result, Moustache Brewing Co. gets the hops it needs to produce its flagship titles and the hops it can get for small-batch specials. Instead of brewing a single pale ale, the brewery “comes out with something completely different every month,” Lauri notes.
The more popular experiments find their way into the brewpub’s rotation. The hazelnut coffee porter started that way, an audition that led to a permanent role and a partnership with the North Fork Roasting Co. of Southold, which contributes an espresso blend to the mix.The roll-with-it approach has given the up-and-coming brewers – she’s an ex-administrative assistant to cardiothoracic surgeons at Stony Brook Medicine, he’s a former inventory manager at Apple – a crash course in the finer points of flavoring and hops-ology.
Eighteen months into their brewing empire and still finding their way, the Spitzes have learned one other business lesson above all others: grow or die.
“We’re planning our next moves,” Lauri says. “We’re not sure where we’re heading with this, but we know we love it. And we know we need to expand our distribution into the city, which we’ll do soon.”
Food & Beverage Mentor
Calverton Business Incubator
There’s a certain symmetry in Monique Gablenz ending her long career of public service at the Calverton Business Incubator.
Gablenz, after all, was a founding partner of the facility in her role as chief of the Riverhead Industrial Development Agency, and oversaw the incubator’s design and construction before taking over as founding executive director in 2005.
“It was a little lonely at first,” she remembers, “with just two tenants when we opened. But it was such a beautiful facility and so well equipped – there really was nothing like it on the East End – and so we filled up quickly.”
Conceived as an economic engine for Eastern Long Island’s agricultural, aquacultural and environmental industries, the original 15,680-square-foot facility was expanded in 2012.
Though the incubator’s marine mission never quite took off, Gablenz led it headlong into the farm to table movement, helping food-focused businesses both on and off the facility’s 50-acre grounds.
“A lot of the food companies at the incubator are using local produce to make their products,” Gablenz notes. “If they’re making pickles, they’re getting their cucumbers from a local farm stand, so we have quite an impact. It’s clear there was a tremendous need for a program like this and I feel great having had the chance to be a part of it.”
Another Gablenz innovation: A Spring to Market initiative, which helped incubator tenants get their wares in front of retailers, including Whole Foods, Fairway and King Kullen and its Wild by Nature subsidiary.
But the Gablenz-led facility always offered a lot more than production space, according to Grace Marie Longinetti, owner of the Calverton-based granola and energy bar maker Copia Granola.
“It’s world-class as far as equipment, but it’s not just a kitchen – it’s a kitchen where you get an education,” she says. “Your product is promoted. You’re always learning.”
Now ready to enjoy retirement, Gablenz has handed the reins to interim director Patrick Iacono, a St. Joseph’s College graduate and accomplished entrepreneur in his own right.
“I loved being able to identify ways our entrepreneurs could grow and to help get them what they needed to become successful companies,” Gablenz said. “I consider that my greatest accomplishment.”
SCIENCE & TECHNOLOGY
Ahsan Ashraf, Matthew Eisaman, Atikur Rahman, Charles Black
Brookhaven National Laboratory
The idea is simple: Minimizing the amount of sunlight bouncing off solar panels to maximize the conversion of the sun’s rays to electricity.
The science that makes it happen is … well, not so simple.
Fortunately, it’s science being tackled by some of the best minds at Brookhaven National Laboratory. This year, a research team led by physicist Chuck Black in BNL’s Center for Functional Nanomaterials proved that etching a nanoscale texture onto silicon surfaces creates an “antireflective surface” that works as well as thin-film coatings commonly used to reduce reflectivity.
Eliminating the need for the film coating could streamline silicon solar-cell production and dramatically reduce manufacturing costs, which would most certainly brighten the eyes of executives in the burgeoning solar-power industry. The innovative approach can also reduce glare reflecting off windows and provide radar camouflage, among many other wide-ranging uses.
The science is not so easily translated into layman’s terms. Black references an “intermediate refractive index” and “block copolymers” and contributions from various scientific fields, ranging from computational modeling to electron microscopy.
In the simplest terms, Black’s team – including Stony Brook University professor Matt Eisaman, a member of BNL’s Sustainable Energy Technologies Department; postdoctoral fellow Atikur Rahman, first author of the study; and BNL/SBU research scientist Ahsan Ashraf – found inspiration in one of nature’s best-known examples of an antireflective surface: the eyes of the common moth.
The surface of the moth’s compound eyes has textured patterns made of tiny “posts,” each smaller than the wavelengths of light. These posts improve nighttime vision and prevent the eyes from giving off a reflective glow that might tip off predators.
Utilizing a surface coating of that block copolymer and a nanotechnology technique common to semiconductor-circuit manufacturing, the team attempted to recreate those moth-eye patterns on the silicon surfaces. The effort “turned the normally shiny silicon surface absolutely black,” Rahman notes.
The scientists are now looking to expand their patent-pending nanotexture-patterning method to other materials, including glass and plastic, creating the prospect of scores of other uses.
But the sun still beckons. The group, Black says, is “working to understand whether there are economic advantages to assembling silicon solar cells using our method.”
Feinstein Institute for Medical Research
One of Long Island’s biggest biotech developments of 2015 came from the Feinstein Institute for Medical Research, which announced in June it was partnering with Ohio health giant Battelle on development of a “neural tourniquet.”
Promising to change the way doctors staunch blood loss everywhere from the battlefield to the operating room, the tourniquet technology grows out of research pioneered by Kevin Tracey, director of the Feinstein Institute, the North Shore-LIJ Health System’s R&D arm.
Tracey’s discoveries have fueled bioelectronic medicine, an emerging field combining molecular science, bioengineering and neuroscience to develop new nerve-stimulating and sensing technologies. Nerve stimulation, it turns out, can also significantly reduce bleeding – according to one study, 60 seconds of electrical stimulation of neural pathways leading to the spleen helps the body’s coagulation system clot blood in half the time, potentially reducing blood loss by 50 percent.
Christopher Czura, the Feinstein Institute’s vice president of scientific affairs, co-invented the neural tourniquet with Tracey and Feinstein researcher Jared Huston, with an assist from the big brains at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. Partnering with Battelle, which introduced a cutting-edge neural bypass technology in 2014, was the best way to speed the tourniquet technology to market, according to Czura.
“Battelle’s track record and approach make them a perfect partner,” Czura says.
The Feinstein-Battelle team believes the neural tourniquet technology could be ready for hospitals and other theaters in as little as three years, helping doctors reduce blood loss at accident scenes, in battle zones and in more than 50 million surgeries performed annually in the United States alone.
The many potential uses for such technologies help explain why the neurostimulation-device market – already pegged at $4.5 billion annually – is projected by market research firm MicroMarketMonitor to reach nearly $8 billion by 2018.
A small but important percentage of that market will focus on blood-loss reducers like the neural tourniquet.
“Blood loss is a tremendous problem in a range of settings,” Czura notes. “Our main goal at the Feinstein Institute is to improve the health and wellbeing of people through scientific discovery.”
New York Institute of Technology – Old Westbury
Already one of the most accomplished researchers in the field of neural stimulation, New York Institute of Technology professor Aydin Farajidavar is closing in on a breakthrough method for studying gastric disorders in the human body.
Farajidavar’s goal: a wireless, implantable system that will give doctors unprecedented access to medical data churning inside their patients. To help him achieve it, the National Institutes of Health in October granted Farajidavar $457,000 to put directly into the development of his Wireless Implantable NeuroGastroenterology System.
Working in the Entrepreneurship and Technology Innovation Center inside NYIT’s School of Engineering and Computing Sciences, Farajidavar and his research team – including scientists from Pennsylvania State University, the North Shore-Long Island Jewish Health System and the Auckland Bioengineering Institute in New Zealand – have already made significant progress on WINGS, which will be tested in animals first.
The system includes a tiny implant that safely monitors electrical impulses produced by rhythmic stomach movements related to gastric functions. Such signals can be easily disrupted by certain body movements, Farajidavar notes, and external monitors don’t always read them correctly.
But the WINGS microchip sensor, implanted by surgeons into a small flap cut into the stomach lining, does. A stick-on external patch wirelessly recharges the implant, allowing it to run for a month or longer, and transmits data to a computer, giving doctors an accurate read on the stomach’s electrical impulses.
The data will help physicians detect gastric malfunctions that negatively affect blood sugar levels, nutrition absorption and other biological functions.
Without WINGS, “we have no adequate way to record the gastric signals,” notes Farajidavar, an assistant professor in NYIT-Old Westbury’s Engineering Department and director of the institute’s Integrated Medical Systems laboratory.
A finalized WINGS systems is still years away, but the NIH grant should speed things up. Following what he expects will be successful animal trials, Farajidavar – who’s authored several medical journal articles and conference papers on neural stimulation – expects to begin human trials “in a few years, and from there, the sky’s the limit, scientifically speaking,” he says.
“These technologies have helped revolutionize diagnosis and treatment of heart issues, and the same thing is possible for stomach conditions – but only if we have ways to monitor gastric signals.”
By shattering previous doctrine on the delivery of medicines to the human body, Stony Brook University research scientist Kasia Sawicka might stop the spread of deadly diseases, save thousands of lives and reshape global healthcare protocols. She might also eliminate your fear of needles.
Though advisors told her it couldn’t be done, Sawicka was sure she could disprove the longstanding 500 Dalton Rule, which insisted a compound’s molecular weight had to be under 500 Daltons – it’s the standard atomic-weight unit – to facilitate absorption through human skin.
She first applied her theories in the lab as an SBU undergrad, and soon discovered that she could transmit proteins on fibers approximately 1000th the width of a human hair. While she wasn’t immediately sure what to do with this knowledge, she was already on the path to discrediting Dalton.
Years of experimentation eventually led Sawicka to poly-vinylpyrrolidone, a polymer that can pull water out of human skin. When moisture is returned, the outer layer of the skin swells, allowing larger molecules to enter through the pores, and drowning the 500 Dalton Rule in the process.
The result: ImmunoMatrix, a stick-on PVP-based patch that can deliver various medications directly through the skin, including compounds weighing as much as 125,000 Daltons.
Despite the breakthrough – and it’s significant – Sawicka remains modest. She doesn’t deny the potential healthcare applications, but until ImmunoMatrix is eradicating diseases in remote villages or supplanting the traditional flu shot at your local CVS, she’s taking it slow.
Slower, in fact, than even she anticipated. This summer, Sawicka accepted an assistant professor slot at her alma mater, forcing her to pause her research while SBU’s Department of Dermatology assembles her new laboratory.
She still had a busy summer, meeting one-on-one with Big Pharma firms, exploring private fundraising opportunities and even schooling future researchers as a counselor at Camp Invention, an enrichment program backed by the National Inventors Hall of Fame.
But Sawicka is eager to get back to the lab and bring ImmunoMatrix to market, where it could be effective in combating the flu, whooping cough and anthrax, among other maladies.
Oh, and she also has to learn how to manage a business.
“It’s a huge lesson,” the scientist notes, “becoming an entrepreneur.”
Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory
Zachary Lippman has vowed be won’t be collecting any blue ribbons.
If he wanted to, the genetic scientist and associate professor at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory could breed a tomato the size of a pumpkin – and maybe a pumpkin the size of a Buick – but Lippman has loftier goals than wowing the judges at county fairs.
“We’re not going after records,” he says.
Instead, Lippman’s research on stem cell production in tomato plants is perfecting the breakthrough that “could have a dramatic effect on fruit production around the world.”
His gene-manipulation experiments – first as a Cornell University undergrad, then as a PhD candidate in epigenetics at CSHL’s Watson School of Biological Sciences, later during postdoctoral work in Israel – have already produced supersized fruits. But bigger, Lippman notes, isn’t always better.
Grow them too large, he says, and you comprise genetic balances, rendering the fruit useless for breeding purposes. So the goal is to find the sweet spot – small enough to respect the laws of science, big enough to change global agriculture forever.
The research began in his Watson School days, when Lippman followed in the footsteps of one-time CSHL scientist Barbara McClintock, a mid-20th century geneticist who won the 1983 Nobel Prize for her discovery of genetic transposition.
McClintock discovered “jumping genes,” which can create or reverse mutations in a DNA sequence. Lippman researched exactly how the jumpers affect other genes in the area, then took what he learned to Israel, where his attention turned to manipulating stem cells in flowering plants. He ultimately targeted tomato plants, where the No. 1 side effect of mutation is abnormal fruit growth.
The science, naturally, is much more involved. But the takeaway is huge: Super-sizing fruits through gene manipulation is possible.
His research, now in partnership with what he calls “a major breeding company,” involves a lot of fine-tuning, plus figuring out how to translate the science for not-too-distant tomato relatives like eggplants, peppers and soybeans. Convincing farmers may take some doing, but Lippman knows the future when he sees it.
“I believe that this is going to be adopted in the future,” he says. “But for now, we’re still trying to prove these principles and get the science into applied pipelines.”
Science & Technology Mentor
Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory
Veteran commercialization expert Teri Willey came to Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in late 2013 with a simple mission: to turn the lab’s transformative science into bona fide businesses.
As co-founder of seed venture fund ARCH Development Partners, as the head of technology and business development at Mount Sinai Medical Center and a past president of the Association of University Technology Managers, she certainly had the chops. And Willey had already shepherded successful tech-related startups and spinoffs in New York City, Chicago and Cambridge, England.
Now the University of Idaho graduate (with an MBA from Indiana State) and former congressional advisor on the Human Genome Project is focused fully on CSHL and the Long Island innovation economy.
Since signing on, she’s helped up-and-coming firms like Envisagenics make the leap from lab to startup, landed critical research grants; negotiated a partnership with Ronkonkoma-based Hairpin Technologies on the lab’s patented short-hairpin RNA technology and formed an alliance with Big Pharma stalwart GlaxoSmithKlein to develop new treatments for obesity and type 2 diabetes.
Most importantly, she’s helped cement closer working relationships with Brookhaven National Lab, Stony Brook University and the Feinstein Institute, forming a regional research and commercialization powerhouse from once-disparate, go-it-alone institutions.
And those are just the headlines. Behind the scenes, Willey has served as counselor on every potential CSHL spinout, not only helping scientists get “there,” she says, but making sure “there’s a there, there.”
No stranger to the nuances of patent law, the business-development VP has formed a formidable team with Charles Ryan, the former Forest Laboratories vice president who became CSHL’s general counsel in March.
As Laboratory Director Bruce Stillman puts it, Cold Spring Harbor was “very fortunate to get Teri Willey.”
Her next assignment? Helping launch a $75 million therapeutic research center that’s designed specifically to speed new treatments for cancer, autism and other diseases to market.
Those are the kinds of challenges that thrill Willey, who says she was attracted to CSHL specifically because of its focus on science and scientists.
“I have the pleasure of working with some of the smartest people in the world,” Willey says.
And they her.
New York Institute of Technology—Old Westbury
Steven Patrikis, a junior-year mechanical engineering student at NYIT-Old Westbury, is turning his love of electronics and robotics into a potential life-changer for lower-arm amputees.
Using 3D printers and advanced software in the school’s Entrepreneurship Technology Innovation Center, Patrikis has already prototyped early versions of a prosthetic appendage he’s calling the Tetra-Hand. Anatomically correct and powered by the user’s physical movements, the coming-soon innovation meets several conditions important to its inventor.
Patrikis was inspired by the Stark Hand, the creation of inventor Mark Stark. Among the most advanced prosthetics ever, the Stark Hand combines the best of cosmetic models, low-cost appendages and fancy high-tech bionics, setting the prosthetic-hand bar fairly high.
Focused primarily on user cost, Patrikis felt he could do better.
“Bioelectricity can get expensive,” he says. “And I don’t believe that having a super high-tech device that works for only 12 hours and costs thousands of dollars is a good idea.”
So Patrikis designed his prosthetic utilizing cables and torsion springs, all packed into a 33-part assembly that mimics human motion with the power of human movement. “When the user shrugs their shoulder, the hand will open up,” Patrikis explains, “and when they shrug again it will close.” It comes complete with a forearm, an upper triceps guard, an articulating wrist and an anatomically correct hand.
At least, it will. Patrikis is still designing ever-advancing prototypes in the ETIC lab, and while the science is sound, the young inventor understands he has a ways to go before he can commercialize.
He’s shooting for sometime around 2020, by which time he’ll have completed his bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering at NYIT and a graduate degree in some related field. But whatever and wherever he winds up studying, the Eagle Scout, NYIT Dean’s Engineering Student Council member and multiple award-winner – including accolades from the American Society of Mechanical Engineers in national robotics competitions – knows the Tetra-Hand is part of his professional destiny.
“I’ve always wanted to be a designer,” Patrikis says. “In my ideal vision, I’d be a biomedical engineer, which would be fun for me because I’d be able to make innovative things and help people at the same time.”
Michael Strahl, David Mroczka
A tiny invention with enormous potential is hurtling toward IT stardom.
Commack-based ClipFix’s ridiculously uncomplicated DIY fix for busted modular plugs – the small plastic housings at the end of modular cables that connect monitors, modems, phones, printers, routers, laptops and just about every other device across the digital spectrum – is finally being embraced by major corporate customers. And considering the omnipresence of modular cables, stratospheric success appears imminent.
Launched in 2010 by founder and CEO Michael Strahl, ClipFix boasts a so-simple-its-brilliant solution to a common modular-plug problem: Those little tabs that snap satisfyingly in place and hold the plugs firmly in their ports tend to break off. After repeated frustrations, Strahl came up with the ClipFix, a surrogate tab that fits around the plug and fastens it securely in place.
Not only does it work, according to Strahl and his partner, ClipFix Vice President and veteran tinkerer David Mroczka, but because it’s so inexpensive – a pack of 25 ClipFix tabs runs as low as $22.99 – the itty bitty plastic thingies generate an ROI of 3,100 percent, compared to the labor, materials and lost-time expenses usually associated with bum modular plugs.
Five years and several prototypes later, the fix is in: A critical field test at a major national bank with several New York-area facilities has gone well, and while ClipFix officials are still awaiting the results of a second shakedown with another major bank, they’re feeling confident. So confident, in fact, that they’ve already placed their first large-scale production order: a 50,000-unit run with Islip manufacturer Autronic Plastics that should be ready before November. ClipFix has also opened up its online ordering system.
As for marketing, the planes are already in the air. Autronic Plastics has already produced hundreds of samples, which are being distributed by IT resellers and other tech professionals in ClipFix’s extensive professional network.
“You can watch videos,” Mroczka notes. “But putting it in their hands is much more compelling to get them to place orders.”
“Usually you develop a product that applies to one market, or at best two or three,” he adds. “Potentially, everybody with a computer or a phone can use this product. We’re obviously very excited.”
Gear Up Play Hard
A growing number of less-fortunate students are getting into the game, thanks to Lanier Mason’s Gear Up Play Hard, a community-minded solution to a common household problem.
With tons of used sports equipment clogging the nation’s closets and a critical need for gear among families who can’t afford it, Lanier created the charity organization in 2014 as an athletic bridge: A place where athletes could donate gently used equipment and other players could find it.
Technically, the idea came from his father, who suggested Mason donate his closetful of used cleats and other equipment to charity. But it was Mason, then a student at Molloy College in Rockville Center, who ran with it, forming alliances with sports organizations and school districts where higher percentages of student-athletes can’t afford to gear up.
The charity has been bolstered by two “fairly significant” donations, according to the founder. The first came from a former coach of the Long Island Astros, a Nassau County stable of traveling baseball teams. That 2014 donation included bats, gloves and a trove of other baseball gear.
A second large boost came in June, when Bethpage High School hosted a student soccer tournament and, in lieu of entry fees, accepted equipment donations for Gear Up Play Hard.
As it stockpiles everything from lacrosse sticks to shoulder pads to soccer balls, Mason’s one-man-show is refining its process. The idea is to fulfill equipment requests at the beginning of each season and then collect donations of “new” old equipment at the end, thereby meeting seasonal demand and replenishing Gear Up Play Hard’s supplies.
Mason has also taken steps to ensure the confidentiality of the less-fortunate students – “The athletes themselves don’t need to feel like charity cases,” he says – and to establish official request channels through participating schools, making it harder to abuse the organization’s good will.
Though studying now for the CPA exam, Mason does all the behind-the-scenes work himself to minimize the charity’s overhead and even ponied up the $1,500 needed to secure the 501(c)3 certification. And that attention will continue.
“Charity is something you do long-term, regardless of career,” the future accountant says. “I’ll certainly always be involved with it.”
Standing 8.5 inches tall, the Happe Holder has big ambitions.
So does its inventor, Jeanne Cilmi, a floral designer and school crossing guard in Northport who’s had other product ideas but has never attempted a serious design or marketing effort.
Until now: Her four-legged cup-holder, designed to keep a beverage out of the grass or sand when you’re picnicking at the park or beach, was prototyped in China, with manufacturing operations subsequently moving to T and A Tool and Molding of Farmingdale. This summer, T and A produced the 20,000th Happe Holder, and according to Cilmi, over 17,000 are already in circulation.
Keeping drinks grit-free is a modest goal, Cilmi admits, but not an unimportant one. And her invention’s diminutive size belies the scope of her ambition.
Cilmi envisions Happe Holders emblazoned with company logos as ideal corporate giveaways, a potentially enormous vertical. For now, she’s satisfied selling packs of four and tacking on Happe Huggies – a strong, stretchy fabric that comes in 18 styles and makes the Happe Holder a more personalized drink-steadying experience – when she can.
More than simply innovating the way beachgoers protect their drinks, Cilmi has embodied the determined entrepreneur. Named for their boat, the Happe Ours, the patented Happe Holder has been funded exclusively by Cilmi and her husband, who’ve poured more than $20,000 into R&D, production and distribution.
Cilmi came up with the design herself and spent many months tinkering with the prototypes from her Chinese manufacturer. She has also personally handled the bulk of Happe Holder’s promotions, hawking the holders in person at Jones Beach and Robert Moses State Park in season and at trade shows that stretch from fall to spring.
Backed by a new website, Cilmi is now looking to increase her web sales.
Featured on the “Today” show and in American Baby magazine, the Happe Holder is proving that a good idea doesn’t have to have a particularly noble purpose to be a winner.
“I get a lot of ‘Why didn’t I think of that?’” Cilmi says. “They call me a genius, because it’s such a simple design but it really does solve a problem. I’m not curing any major illnesses here, just making a day at the beach a little nicer.”
Girl Scouts of Suffolk County
The Girl Scouts of Suffolk County’s innovative STEM initiative is an overnight success story.
Or at least it felt like it would be back in 2009.
It started with a Girl Scouts USA report detailing why young women weren’t more active in the STEM fields of science, technology, engineering and math. The report struck a chord with Yvonne Grant, president and CEO of the Girl Scouts of Suffolk County, and with Mary Garrote, the Suffolk chapter’s development director.
The duo decided to educate themselves on the phenomenon, and as part of that effort toured the children’s science center at Brookhaven National Laboratory.
“We were very excited about what we saw,” Garrote says. “Yvonne was sure we needed to build something just like that for our girls.”
That road proved long, and with many potholes. When GS-Suffolk tried to introduce a robotics component, staffers lamented a lack of sufficient expertise. When they tried to build an actual STEM center, it proved to be an overwhelmingly expensive proposition.
Then luck shined down, in the form of one of Long Island’s all-time darkest events: 2012’s Hurricane Sandy. The legendary superstorm, and the heavy snows that followed just weeks later, severely damaged an aging building at Camp Sobaco, a 41-acre Girl Scouts compound in Yaphank. With insurance money flowing in, Grant and Garrote saw their window.
Combining the insurance with a number of private gifts and corporate grants, GS-Suffolk overhauled the building – not simply installing new air conditioning or freshening up the paint, but creating a bona fide STEM facility stocked with smartboards, computer stations, chemistry and physics laboratories and other equipment designed to stoke scientific interest.
Girls Scouts of Suffolk County leveraged a $153,000 grant from the Knapp Swezey Foundation, a $25,000 grant from National Grid, $200,000 (over three years) from a “silent donor,” according to Garrote, and smaller gifts from Bethpage Federal Credit Union, PSEG and others to create its Discovery World STEM Center.
The center had a soft opening in June 2014 and officially cut the ribbon in September 2014, and this year began handing out its first merit badges in categories including energy efficiency and environmentalism.
It also introduced new innovations – opening the learning center to both genders, for instance – with more partnerships and programs coming soon.
“Our mission is to create leaders,” Garrote says. “We thought it was important for us to find a way to get the girls involved.”
Nassau/Suffolk Inventors and Entrepreneurs Clubs
Trying to summarize Brian Fried is like trying to explain imagination itself: There’s just too much there to whittle down.
Fried’s an entrepreneur, having launched numerous companies and promotional enterprises, both self-promotional and focused on the promotion of others. He’s a coach, encouraging other innovators through the Inventors and Entrepreneur Club of Suffolk County (launched 2007), a Nassau County version (launched 2012) and half-a-dozen other inventor-support programs.
And he’s an innovator in the purest sense, forever envisioning and tinkering and building. One of Fried’s creations may be in your home right now – over a dozen are available commercially, including Pull Ties, an innovative update on those flimsy plastic clips that have failed to keep bread fresh for decades.
But for all his commercial success, Fried may be best known as the voice of Long Island invention. His monthly club meetings attract dozens of wannabe Edisons with products in all stages of development, plus patent attorneys and potential investors. Fried is also the founder of InventorConsulting.com, GetInventionHelp.com and Got Invention Radio, a weekly program spotlighting high-profile inventors and numerous innovation resources.
He’s authored a resource guide called “You & Your Big Ideas” – a second book is on the way – and hosted seminars for the Small Business Administration and the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.
He’s also a regular lecturer on the nuances of turning ideas into reality, a traveling show he calls “An Inventor’s Adventure.”
That’s in addition to one-on-one consulting, actual representation of other inventors as a licensing agent and consulting gigs with numerous corporations in the product-development business. Fried has also been selected to serve as an expert content writer for Answers.com, sharing tips and covering trends in the website’s Invent category.
And if you recognize his face, don’t be surprised: Freid has personally pitched many of his own products on QVC, as well as products produced by his most promising protégés.
It all adds up to unofficial recognition as Long Island’s No. 1 inventor – a man who not only embraces his own inner creativity, but encourages innovation in others.
“The greatest feeling is being able to see and use what you created,” Fried says, “and having others buy and use what you brought into the world.”