Engineering Faculty Enter the Entrepreneur Scene

Longhorn Startup Studio gives faculty members an opportunity to share their patents and startups with Austin's business and entrepreneurial community.

startup studio 2013

After logging hundreds of classroom and lab hours, faculty members at The University of Texas at Austin can often be too busy to let others know about their game-changing patents and innovative startups.

With that in mind, Bob Metcalfe, co-inventor of the Ethernet and professor of innovation at the Cockrell School of Engineering, joined forces with the Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce to give these faculty members a platform in Austin’s entrepreneur scene. Metcalfe, who has hosted the invitation-only events since last May, saw the faculty-focused Longhorn Startup Studio as a complement to his other Longhorn Startup programs aimed at cultivating entrepreneurship at UT Austin.

Each month during an informal gathering, the regional business and entrepreneurial community gets a front-row ticket to hear about the newest products and inventions coming out of the Forty Acres. Since Longhorn Startup Studio began, 16 startups have presented to the Austin Chamber.

Held at the chamber’s downtown office, the faculty studio is a dinner-and-discussion program meant to foster collaboration and mentorship.

The faculty presentations elicit thought-provoking, sometimes critical, feedback intended to give these young companies a leg up. The hope is that the strategic guidance will stimulate new ideas to help the startups achieve commercial success.

UT Austin's Office of Technology and Commercialization, which provides faculty with extensive entrepreneurial support, helps to identify which startups are featured at the studio.

In May, three Cockrell School faculty members presented their companies: Thomas Milner, FemtoSurg; S.V. Sreenivasan, Molecular Imprints Inc.; and Gary Pope, Ultimate EOR LLC.

Pope, a professor in the Department of Petroleum and Geosystems Engineering, gave the Cockrell School the inside scoop on his startup, which is focused on the oil industry:

Ultimate EOR LLC
Ultimate EOR LLC believes it has the know-how to extract more oil from existing oil fields around the world.

About two years ago, professors Gary Pope and Upali Weerasooriya decided to turn the research they were doing at the Center for Petroleum and Geosystems Engineering into a company focused on enhanced oil recovery (EOR). They immediately began negotiating with the Office of Technology Commercialization for exclusive licenses to the patents created from their research.

The world-renowned Center for Petroleum and Geosystems Engineering has developed chemicals, processes, computer models and engineering methods that no other university or company has, Pope said.

Leveraging the techniques developed at UT Austin, Ultimate EOR is able to tailor detergents, co-solvents and polymers to recover oil that cannot be recovered by conventional extraction methods.

“It’s like washing dirty clothes with a detergent, but a lot harder because the crude oil is in a rock thousands of feet under the ground, so it has to be done with specialized chemicals,” said Pope, who holds the Texaco Centennial Chair in the petroleum and geosystems department. “It’s a complicated recipe that’s unique to every oil reservoir.”

There’s a wave of interest in EOR techniques because of high oil prices and increased demand. Oil production from EOR reached an estimated 2.943 million barrels per day in 2013, according to a report in Reportlinker.com.

“With the new breakthroughs in chemical EOR, the potential for greatly increased oil production is huge,” Pope said.

Earlier this year, several companies invested in Ultimate EOR, and a few months ago, Charles Christopher was appointed president and CEO. Pope plans to continue his work at the petroleum and geosystems center and teaching at UT Austin.

UT Austin at Longhorn Startup Studio

Below is a list of faculty and staff, and their startups, who have presented to date:

Daniel Miranker
Capsenta

Eric Anslyn
Kymyk

Yetkin Yildirim
TerraPave International

Lucas Holt
John Pearce
Jon Valvano
Admittance

Chris Slaughter
Sriran Vishwanath
Lynx Labs

Neal Hall
Silicon Audio

Bruce Klappauf
Mark Raizen
AtomoTech

Sriram Vishwanath
M87

Adela Ben-Yakar
Fempto Medical

Jason Baldridge
People Pattern

Even Grim
Josh Alexander
Toopher

Rodney Ruoff
Graphene Materials/Energy

Thomas Milner
FemtoSurg

S.V. Sreenivasan
Molecular Imprints Inc.

Gary Pope
Upali Weerasooriya
Ultimate EOR LLC.