Three years ago, Casey McNeil, Cassandra Hoang and Susan Tran, all graduates of the University of Houston’s C.T. Bauer College of Business with degrees in entrepreneurship, found technology from the university’s tech transfer office developed by Allan Jacobson, Ph.D., director of the Texas Center for Superconductivity at UH, and turned it into a company.
Jacobson developed a way to extract rare earth elements from electronic waste, such as cell phones and computer hard drives, to create a second supply of neodymium and dysprosium to be converted into clean energy.
In 2014, REEcycle took top honors at the National Clean Energy Business Plan Competition and set up its business in the UH Energy Research Park. Business has been good, and McNeil, CEO of REEcycle, said he has exceeded the laboratory space needed to perform more pilot projects.
His space needs were answered recently when the University of Houston stepped up its entrepreneurship game with the opening of a 30,000-square-foot wet laboratory facility with space designed to support chemical, materials and life-science startups.
“This is a great way to be able to collaborate with other entrepreneurs and to access students who can do the unique things that we need,” McNeil said. In addition to the workspace, REEcycle was also able to house its reactor on campus.
The lab features 28 fume hoods, 250 lab benches and competitive rental rates. Those who work in the lab will be able to participate in workshops and training, as well as Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) grant development assistance.
There will also be an entrepreneur-in-residence so startups can bounce ideas off of him or her, set up office hours and network at monthly events.
Part of the school’s incubator program, the lab joins a nearby innovation working space, which opened last year in the UH Energy Research Park, and provides office space for startups that develop at the university or would like to work with it. Collectively, the area is known as “The Spur,” with the working space called Spur 4 and the wet lab called Spur 5, correlating to the numbered buildings within the research park.
“Like Casey, who found a place to business his commercial enterprise, our hope is the Innovation Lab and Innovation Center will open up opportunities for more startups from UH, bringing people in from all over to build an ecosystem that can take advantage of some of the smartest people in Houston that are no more than half a mile away,” said Ramanan Krishnamoorti, Ph.D., interim vice chancellor and interim vice president for research and technology transfer for the UH System.
Some 20 companies have expressed interest in using the lab, where the average workspace is around 1,000 square feet, said Ryan Black, who has recently joined the incubator team to manage the lab.
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