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$4.7 million headed to Maryland professors for research

The Maryland Industrial Partnerships program has awarded $4.7 million to university researchers across the state to support their collaborations with 16 Maryland companies that are developing technology products.

The grants are jointly funded by the MIPS program, a 26-year old initiative of the Maryland Technology Enterprise Institute (MTech) at the University of Maryland, College Park, and the companies themselves.

The 16 firms contributed $3.3 million; MIPS added $1.4 million in matched funds. Program Director Martha J. Connolly said MIPS’ contribution to each project depends on the size of the company. Additionally, the Maryland Department of Natural Resources and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency contributed a total of $188,595 to the three projects that focus on protecting the Chesapeake Bay.

The largest grant ($1.4 million) will allow UMCP professor Jungho Kim to work with Germantown-based Earth Networks to improve the company’s home energy management program, which uses data to respond to consumer demand and optimize household energy efficiency.

The second largest award goes to Hilkat Soysal, a physics and engineering lecturer at Frostburg State University. Soysal will receive $452,587 to work with Sustainable Design Group in Gaithersburg to develop a self-contained bulk milk chiller for use in remote locations where electricity is unreliable or unavailable.

Other projects include a drug to treat cystic fibrosis, a medical device for detecting cardiovascular disease, an electronic home plate to track baseball performance, and tools to inspect bridges for damage.

The money supports the faculty members and graduate students working on the projects, but MIPS’ goal is not purely academic. The money funds researchers’ efforts for a set time period, but they are expected to have something to show for it — a data set, perhaps, or a prototype, Connolly said.

“One of the hallmarks of this program is that it is technology agnostic — we don’t care about the technology in particular,” she said. “What we’re trying to do is find a company that can actually make and bring these products to market. That’s really what drives us; that’s our mission.”

When companies approach MIPS in search of a faculty member to develop a specific product, Connolly’s team helps find someone who fits the bill. Executives and researchers then partner to submit a proposal for a project, and twice a year (loosely tied to academic schedules) MIPS accepts applications for funding.

Connolly said proposals are rigorously evaluated based on two criteria: Is it good science, and is it good business? About half the applications make the cut, she said.

This is the first time faculty members at Morgan State University and St. Mary’s College of Maryland received funding. Previously, only researchers within the University System of Maryland were eligible, but it was expanded in 2010 to include all public, four-year state schools.

MTech, which was launched out of the A. James Clark School of Engineering at UMCP, created the MIPS program in 1987. Since then, it has contributed $37 million in matched funds for more than 1,000 research projects at hundreds of Maryland companies. This is its 51st round of funding.

MTech’s mission is to educate aspiring technology entrepreneurs, create successful technology ventures, and connect the commercial sector with the research and educational resources at state universities.