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New grant supports company founded by a KU professor and his student

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

New startup company Avium, LLC was awarded a $225,000 seed grant this summer from the National Science Foundation to help commercialize a new technology for producing hydrogen from water.

The technology was discovered recently by Kevin Leonard, Assistant Professor of Chemical & Petroleum Engineering at KU, and his graduate student Joe Barforoush. After applying for a patent on the technology, they launched Avium to commercialize it.

The technology promises to be cheaper and more efficient than conventional methods, but more research and development (R&D) is needed to know for sure.  The one-year grant from NSF’s Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) program will help the team get through the early stages of R&D. It follows another similar grant awarded to Dr. Leonard from the Department of Defense Innovation Corps program.

NSF created STTR to support high-risk, high-reward R&D since private investors avoid such risky ventures.  The program is part of a congressional mandate to get federally-funded research innovations into the marketplace faster, where they can boost economic growth in the U.S.

The grants give American-owned, small businesses money to support R&D, while taking zero equity in the company.  The grants also provide entrepreneurial training, since most academic scientists are experts at tinkering in the lab, not selling products or meeting customer needs.

Avium is leasing lab space adjacent to KU’s Center for Environmentally Beneficial Catalysis to conduct experiments and explore the feasibility of their technology.  This space is operated by the Bioscience & Technology Business Center, which supports industry growth in northeastern Kansas through university, city, county, and state partnerships.

What comes next?

If all goes well, by this time next year Leonard and Barforoush will be savvier entrepreneurs armed with a commercialization plan for a game-changing hydrogen production technology. The team can then apply for Phase II—and maybe even Phase III—grants from NSF to continue development.

--Story by Claudia Bode



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