University inventors speed date with investors

Published: Tuesday, May 7 2013 5:17 p.m. MDT

SALT LAKE CITY — Finding investors for a new product can be as difficult as finding true love, or at least that was the concept behind a "Speed Teching" event hosted Tuesday by the University of Utah.

The event, organized as a form of entrepreneurial speed dating, gave Utah university representatives two minutes to pitch new homegrown technologies to a table of investors before moving on to the next station.

Representatives from the University of Utah, BYU, Utah Valley University and Weber State University showed off everything from innovative medical equipment to high-level electronics in an attempt to woo potential financing and, fingers crossed, get a phone call for a Friday night business dinner.

Bryan Ritchie, executive director of commercialization for the University of Utah, said the event was an opportunity to showcase the emerging technologies developed at Utah's schools. Each year, the state's colleges and universities turn out roughly 500 new inventions, but reaching the marketplace typically requires outside investment, he said.

"We'd love to have the investors pick up the technology and do something cool with it," Ritchie said. "All of the universities are inventing exciting new technologies, but they've got to get them out."

In some cases, the new technologies were elaborate and complex, such as a mobile power plant designed to provide electricity to rural and underdeveloped areas, or a disposable but precise blade that could provide a lower-cost option in cataract surgeries.

Others were comparatively simple but solved a consumer problem, such as a Dutch oven developed at UVU that uses a removable handle to answer the question of how to remove the official cooking pot of Utah from a fire without burning your hands.

"I've cooked everything you can possibly think of in this thing," UVU instructor John Gilbert said while demonstrating the oven's unique design.

Gilbert said he posted information about the oven on his Facebook page and within hours received dozens of comments from potential customers eager to pick up one of their own. He said the oven's developers were looking to secure a $20,000 investment to bring 1,000 units to the marketplace.

"We have people who want to buy it. We just need funds," he said.

Linda Cabrales, who attended the event on behalf of the Utah Science Technology and Research initiative, said she was impressed by the technologies she saw.

USTAR, which partners with local business ventures and schools to further commercialization efforts, engages in outreach efforts to scout new projects, but it is helpful, she said, when several initiatives from around the state can be brought together in one place.

"With something like this, it's very helpful because they're all here," Cabrales said of the Speed Teching event.

As with actual speed dating, it can be difficult to stand out from the crowd when so many individuals are competing simultaneously for the attention — or, in this case, dollars — of suitors.

Ritchie said he wasn't concerned about one project going home with everyone's phone numbers and added that the exposure of a combined event is good for all involved.

"We should be doing this in conjunction, not in competition," he said. "Why not show that all in one place for the investors to take a look at?"

Email: benwood@deseretnews.com, Twitter: bjaminwood

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