Two University startups present to Congress

Both young companies will get a chance to win seed money and spread awareness

by Melissa Steinken

While still in their infancy, two University of Minnesota start-ups will travel to Congress Tuesday as part of a University event that helps nascent companies secure investment.

The two companies, Minnepura and Innotronics, were funded with help from the University’s Venture Center. As part of the University Startups Demo Day, which gives 35 school-launched startups a chance to interact with investors, Minnepura and Innotronics will present their ideas to members of Congress in Washington, D.C.

Both University companies were named on the National Council of Entrepreneurial Tech Transfer’s 2016 “Best University Startups” list, which qualified them for Tuesday’s event.

The University’s Venture Center is part of the Office for Technology Commercialization and has launched over 100 companies since its start in 2006, with over 80 still active, said Venture Center Associate Director Russ Straate.

“Our hope is that the visibility these companies get might attract investors,” Straate said, adding that on top of seeking investments, presenters will meet members of Congress.

Minnepura, founded in 2013, developed a low-cost method to remove chemicals from waterways, said Co-Founder Larry Wackett. The idea came when his team looked critically at the way microorganisms gets trapped in silica gels.

“There’s a big push now to use water more wisely,” Wackett said.

Minnepura filters use a gel that has enzymes acting like a sponge to break down bad particles.

Wackett said the filters break down chemicals instead of just catching them — the Minnepura system could be efficient enough to save 20 billion gallons of water in California alone, he said.

Minnepura also works to clean agricultural runoff and water contaminated by industrial oil and gas, he said.

The other startup, Innotronics, — launched last year — and aims to market remote sensors for industrial and agricultural equipment.

The three-member team first researched sensors for cars that could detect and prevent imminent crashes, said Innotronics Chief Scientific Officer Rajesh Rajamani.

Despite its work in vehicle crashes, the team found that the sensors could also help increase accuracy of hydraulics in industrial, construction and agricultural equipment, Rajamani said. In addition, these sensors are effective in automating hydraulic pistons and allow for better control in precision activities like planting seeds at a certain depth.

Rajamani said the new sensor is cheap, durable and easy to install.

“Ideas aren’t necessarily valuable at all unless someone does something with it,” said John Stavig, director of Carlson’s Gary S. Holmes Center for Entrepreneurship.

While both startups advanced to Congress, they’re still in the early stages of development, Straate said. Still, their inventions’ ability to disrupt and solve high-profile problems makes them likely to succeed.

“This is a great opportunity for our companies to get exposure for a much broader group outside the Twin-Cities market,” he said.