What is MIRTA?
MIRTA is an accelerator program designed specifically to develop UMaine research innovations into marketable new products and services that may lead to new job creation and grow Maine’s economy.
MIRTA applies the accelerator model used in the startup world for technology transfer projects in the university ecosystem. During this intensive 16-week program, participants are guided through market analysis, intellectual property analysis, and business model development. After participation in MIRTA, teams have a roadmap with clear pathways that could include creation of a startup, licensing to a new or existing company or direct engagement with the end user.
From the 13 teams in the first three MIRTA cohorts, five new startups have been formed, six patents have been filed or issued, and the teams have collectively raised more than $2 million in external funding and prototype sales to support ongoing commercialization. Companies that have been formed after participation in MIRTA include Neuright, winner of the $25,000 David Shaw prize at the statewide Top Gun accelerator program in 2019, and UNAR Labs recently selected to join the first cohort of the Roux Institute Startup Residency Program.
Current Cohort (MIRTA 4.0)
Faculty lead: Andrei Alyokhin, professor of applied entomology
Supporting team members: Patrick Erbland, a UMaine alumnus and research associate at the Alyokhin laboratory, and Matthew Moyet, a UMaine alumnus and Ph.D. student at the Alyokhin laboratory
External partner: Ryan Beaumont, principal engineer, RBC Expert Engineering
HI-Lucens employs black soldier fly larvae to convert food waste into high-quality protein for animal consumption. The team has developed a working prototype of an affordable, automated modular bioconversion system where larvae are nourished on food waste before being harvested, dried, and processed for use in fish, poultry and swine feeds.
The team is preparing to scale up into a pilot production facility and plans to form an LLC.
Faculty lead: Jim Weber, associate professor of animal and veterinary sciences
Supporting team members: Recent graduates Raleigh Toussaint (pre-veterinary sciences, ‘21) and David Flewelling (biological engineering, ‘21), as well as University of Maine entrepreneur-in-residence John Branscombe, Jr.
External partner: Brian McLaughlin, CEO and founder, Amplify Additive
BioAnchor has developed patented implant technology that promotes soft-tissue integration to form an infection-resistant “biological seal” in medical devices that penetrate the skin. The team has identified both the veterinary orthopedic market and the human surgical market as targets, and is in the process of establishing a spin-off company to continue product development. Weber is among the BioAnchor inventors, along with orthopedic oncologist Ian Dickey (also an adjunct professor at UMaine and chair of the external advisory board for the university’s undergraduate program in biomedical engineering); Anne Lichtenwalner, associate professor of animal and veterinary sciences and director of the University of Maine Animal Health Laboratory; and professor of chemical and biomedical engineering David Neivandt.
Faculty advisor: Denise Skonberg, professor of food science
Research lead: Suriya Prakaash Lakshmi Balasubramaniam, Ph.D. candidate in food and nutrition sciences
Nature Nano is exploring the use of nanocellulose in food applications. After entering MIRTA seeking to develop and commercialize a biodegradable, antioxidant, and antimicrobial film made from renewable cellulose nanofibers for use in food packaging, Balasubramaniam pivoted to consideration of nanocellulose as a fiber-based food additive that shows promise for emulsification and can protect the bioactive compounds and increase the shelf life of foods.
Faculty lead: Justin Dimmel, assistant professor of mathematics education and instructional technology
Supporting team members: Eric Pandiscio, associate professor of mathematics education, associate professor of art Gregory Ondo, UMaine sculpture studio technician Sam Hoey, and recent graduate Emma Reedman (biology, pre-med with minors in psychology and interdisciplinary studies, ‘21)
External partner: Mitch Stone, economic development director, Town of Orono
The SunRule harnesses the rays of the sun to help users explore multiplication and division. The team has developed two versions of the device, a handheld design that could be used by individual students in K-12 math classes, and an interactive mathematical sculpture suitable for parks and museums. Both offer a connection to the outdoors and represent a unique approach to foundational mathematical concepts that many students struggle to learn and that instructors are seeking new ways to teach. Through a partnership with the Town of Orono, a SunRule installation is planned for Webster Park in the fall of 2021. The team plans to form a startup for direct sales to customers, focusing first on the education market (teachers, schools, parents), then museums, municipalities and other enterprise clients, and finally homeowners seeking a unique and functional outdoor element.