Purdue women make mark as innovators, entrepreneurs

Published: February 4, 2015

Sherry Harbin

Sherry Harbin, Purdue University associate professor of biomedical engineering, founded GeniPhys, a startup based on her research in collagen and engineering matrix technologies in 2014. (Purdue Research Foundation photo) Download Photo

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – Purdue University has a long history of supporting strong women leaders. Aviation pioneer Amelia Earhart coached young women about careers at Purdue, former dean Dorothy Stratton was the first full-time Dean of Women Purdue, and alumna and astronaut Janice Voss logged 18.8 million miles and 49 days in space including a total of 779 Earth orbits.

The trend continues with Purdue women innovators and entrepreneurs who are making their mark in the world of technology transfer and commercialization in a number of ways including patent filings, startup creation and licensing deals. It is estimated that more than 100 women are actively engaged in entrepreneurial activities at Purdue, many of whom have founded startups in addition to their academic or administrative responsibilities.

Sherry Harbin, Purdue associate professor of biomedical engineering, took the leap in startup creation in late 2014 when she founded GeniPhys. She licensed her own research development in collagen and engineering matrix technologies, innovations that could change the way collagen and other biomaterials are standardized, developed and used in research and medical applications. 

"I've been thinking about creating a startup to commercialize my life sciences technology for several years, and this is the right time," she said. "The technology has reached a point where it is ready to move to the public, and Purdue's support system for university entrepreneurs is strong. New programs and policies enacted over the past two years encouraged me to move forward."

Purdue Research Foundation, which manages the Office of Technology Commercialization, has enacted several strategic initiatives to promote entrepreneurship including the opening of the Purdue Foundry, a business incubator to help Purdue faculty, staff and students create startups; the Innovation and entrepreneurship landing page to drive interested innovators to the right entrepreneurial resources;  Purdue Innovator Startup Guide to provide entrepreneurs with intellectual property protection guidance, startup advice and other resources, and an express license to expedite the technology transfer process.

Harbin follows in the startup steps of numerous other Purdue women innovators and entrepreneurs. Two of Purdue's entrepreneurial programs in the Burton D. Morgan Center for Entrepreneurship are led by successful women entrepreneurs.

Alyssa Panitch was named the inaugural director of life sciences and medical technologies for the Deliberate Innovation for Faculty (DIFF) program in 2014. The program's leaders are successful faculty

Alyssa Panitch

Alyssa Panitch, the Leslie E. Geddes Professor of Biomedical Engineering, was named the inaugural director of the Deliberate Innovation for Faculty (DIFF) program and has been involved in the launch of three startups, including Symic Biomedical Inc. (Purdue Research Foundation photo) Download Photo 

entrepreneurs from multiple disciplines who provide mentoring for Purdue innovators who have an interest in translating their inventions to the public through commercialization, collaboration or entrepreneurship. Panitch also is the Leslie E. Geddes Professor of Biomedical Engineering, vice provost for faculty affairs and has been involved in the launch of three startups, including Symic Biomedical Inc., for which she serves on the scientific advisory board. The company recently announced that it secured $15 million in Series A financing.

"As the director for life sciences and medical technologies of the DIFF program, I feel strongly about the importance of including entrepreneurship and technology transfer as part of our research goals," Panitch said. "The program can help faculty establish long-term goals in early-stage research and that could help provide additional sponsored research support."

Jessica Huber

Jessica Huber, a professor in Purdue's Department of Speech, Language and Hearing Sciences and co-founder of SpeechVive Inc., was named the Faculty Fellow for Entrepreneurship in 2014. Huber developed a device to help people with Parkinson's disease communicate more effectively. The device is now sold and used in more than 20 states. (Purdue Research Foundation photo) Download Photo

Jessica Huber, a professor in Purdue's Department of Speech, Language and Hearing Sciences and co-founder of SpeechVive Inc., was named the Faculty Fellow for Entrepreneurship in 2014. Huber developed a device to help people with Parkinson's disease communicate more effectively. The device is now sold and used in more than 20 states.

 "The Faculty Fellow program is a tremendous asset for faculty who are entering the entrepreneurial arena for the first time," Huber said. "I do believe having a woman leader in this position makes a strong statement about the importance of our roles at the university and has encouraged other women to get involved with entrepreneurship."

In fiscal year 2014, the contributions of Purdue innovators and entrepreneurs are evidenced in Purdue's record-breaking year in commercialization activities. The Purdue Research Foundation had 24 startups based on Purdue intellectual property, tripling the previous year's number. The Office of Technology Commercialization received 146 U.S. and global-issued patents, representing a more than 30 percent increase over the previous year, and 120 licensing deals of Purdue intellectual property with startups and established companies, for an increase of more than 20 percent over the prior year.

"Purdue is an established leader in entrepreneurial activities," said Eileen Walker, CEO of the Association of University Research Parks. "Over the past decade, women in university environments and in industry have made progress in becoming more involved in entrepreneurship. This is an important issue and it is good to see that Purdue is addressing it."

The Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation of Entrepreneurship reports that the trend of women entrepreneurship is growing at the national level. The 2014 study shows that "women entrepreneurs are starting 1,288 new businesses each day, double the rate of only three years ago." The U.S. Census and the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that about 29 percent of privately held firms in the United States are women-owned, and another 12 percent are equally owned by women and men.

"I'm not surprised about the increased number of women who are entrepreneurs, particularly at Purdue. One of the reasons I came to Purdue from Arizona was because

Mary Wirth

Mary J. Wirth, the W. Brooks Fortune Distinguished Professor of Chemistry, founded bioVidria Inc., a life sciences startup focused on new materials for protein analysis to advance pharmaceuticals, proteomics, and agriculture. (Purdue University photo) Download Photo

of the supportive entrepreneurial environment and the exceptionally large number of entrepreneurs here," said Mary J. Wirth, the W. Brooks Fortune Distinguished Professor of Chemistry and founder of bioVidria Inc. "For example, the Purdue Research Foundation helped me with advice on patenting and networking opportunities. They also connected me with the Indiana Economic Development Corporation, who helped me with marketing research and commercialization strategy. The environment at Purdue helped in my writing a successful NIH STTR Phase II grant proposal. The support system here is advantageous for any entrepreneur."

Emily Mishler, a Purdue senior, launched a startup called Get Involved – Be the Change Inc. to raise funds for nonprofits by designing and selling limited edition scarves online. Proceeds are donated to organizations highlighted each month. For example, the company partnered with Big Brothers Big Sisters to support National Mentoring Month in January and is partnering with the American Heart Association to support National Heart Month throughout February.

Emily Mishler

Emily Mishler, a Purdue University apparel design and technology major from Goshen, Indiana, poses with scarves she designed for her startup Get Involved - Be The Change Inc. Mishler donates the profits of her company to nonprofit organizations. (Purdue Research Foundation photo)  Download Photo

"I wanted to challenge myself and at the same time find a way to help people. It's been a wonderful learning process. I've learned about fundraising, networking and creating through the design and production processes," said Mishler, who was named Miss Purdue University in the 2013-14 academic year. "I received so much help through the Purdue Foundry – business plans, funding, grant writing – these resources are invaluable as Purdue students move into the entrepreneurial world. I feel like I am in the right place to learn and grow as I prepare for my future."

Work is ongoing to increase active participation by women entrepreneurs even more.

"Even with all the initiatives and programs available for entrepreneurs at Purdue, we know that women are still underrepresented," said Dan Hasler, president of Purdue Research Foundation. "We are far from satisfied that we have done everything we can to make sure everyone feels welcome to join us in the commercialization and startup arena."

For a list of women innovators and entrepreneurs at Purdue visit: otc-prf.org/purdue-women-innovators

For a list of entrepreneurial activities and support initiatives visit: innovation-entrepreneurship-purdue.com

About Purdue Research Foundation

The Purdue Research Foundation is a private, nonprofit foundation created to advance the mission of Purdue University. The foundation manages the Purdue Foundry, Office of Technology Commercialization, Purdue Research Park and Purdue Technology Centers. The foundation received the 2014 Incubator Network of the Year from the National Business Incubation Association for its work in entrepreneurship and strong business support system. For more information about investing in a Purdue startup or licensing a Purdue innovation, visit PurdueFoundry.com

Contact: Cynthia Sequin, 765-588-3340, casequin@prf.org

Sources: Sherry Harbin, 765-496-6128, harbins@purdue.edu 

Jessica Huber, 765 494-3796, jhuber@purdue.edu

Mary Wirth, mwirth@purdue.edu

Eileen Walker, eileenwalker@mac.com

Emily Mishler, 574-361-6203, emilymishler@gmail.com

Dan Hasler, 765-588-3825, djhasler@prf.org