Milwaukee Inventors Meet Investors At First Look Forum

Apr 15, 2019

Many scientists who invent products and form a company need financial help to get their creation to market. So, the UWM Foundation and Medical College of Wisconsin hold an annual event called "First Look Forum," which aims to connect researchers and venture capitalists.

It's a quick pitch event, meaning the scientists have about 10 minutes to explain their breakthrough. On April 10, they spoke to a panel made up of an intellectual property attorney, a business executive and the founder of a venture capital firm. One of the six presenters was professor Deyang Qu, chairperson of the Mechanical Engineering department at UW-Milwaukee. Qu discusses electric vehicles, saying a key problem is driver anxiety over the car's range.

“You always worry about if you're running out of electricity. And, charging the battery is going to take hours. So, that's the problem, that actually is the obstacle for consumer acceptance of the pure electric vehicle," Qu explains to the forum.

Qu says his research team has created chemical additives to extend the lifetime of lithium or sodium ion batteries. Panel member George Arida, of the Madison firm 30 Ventures, wants to know what sort of business deal Qu would propose.

"Is this something you would ultimately collaborate with somebody and license it to them? Or, do you see starting a company that would sell the additive? ” Arida asks.

Qu responds that he's looking at licensing the technology to battery manufacturers or makers of the chemical, silicon oxide.

UWM professor Deyang Qu speaks at the First Look Forum.
Credit Chuck Quirmbach

Another presenter was professor Christina Runge, of the Medical College of Wisconsin. She's been working on a smartphone app that amplifies some room sounds to help people with hearing loss. 

"What happens if we are able to provide audibility of these high frequency sounds, and then we can give access to people for all sounds?" Runge asks.

Panelists ask Runge about whether the app would be attractive to investors, or just made accessible to improve public health. 

Arida, the venture capitalist, explains to WUWM that he and his peers typically want to see products have certain qualities.

"So, you're looking at what solves a big problem? How can you protect it? Do you have a realistic understanding of how much money it'll take to get to market, and how do you do it?” Arida says.

Arida says his job is getting tougher because there's so much good research, and venture capitalists either have to become more specialized or rely on advisory boards that have a deep knowledge of a technology.  Arida says sometimes decisions are tough because of the amount of money needed to keep product research going.

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