SALT LAKE CITY — Del Turley has a new product idea that may best be described as mind-bending. Sort of.
He and partner Lee Edgar have developed a flexible concrete that's stronger than the stuff that makes up sidewalks and can be colored, inlaid with designs or corporate logos and be poured over virtually anything, including carpet. When they attend trade shows, one of their favorite tricks is to demonstrate their product's most unique characteristic by laying a slab between to boards and jumping up and down on it, an act that leads to a lot of boinging, but no breaking.
And now, thanks in part to a grant from the Utah Governor's Office of Economic Development, Turley and Edgar are growing Elastocrete, with expansion into new markets and improved distribution channels and appear to be well on their way to success.
Elastocrete was one of 12 new innovations on display at Salt Lake City's Impact Hub Tuesday evening as part of the GOED's 2017 Technology Commercialization and Innovation Demo Day. Each of the companies, who gave 5-minute power pitches to the assembled crowd of about 100 fellow innovators, investors and supporters, were recipients of grants aimed at helping Utah small businesses and university teams bring new technology to market.
GOED Executive Director Val Hale said the grants, which range from around $50,000 to the maximum $100,000, help get startups past the point where they've likely run out of "family and friend" funds and need a cash infusion to keep the development of their idea moving forward.
"This funding typically comes at a critical time for these projects," Hale said. "It helps them got over the 'Valley of Death' that sometimes brings a halt to an otherwise excellent concept."
Hale explained that the competitive grants go out to companies only after they are vetted by a board of experts. Criteria include not only the viability of applicants' ideas, but potential positive economic impacts and job growth possibilities related to their innovations. Following an award, recipients are required to achieve promised benchmarks as well as perform regular reporting on their progress. They also get access to numerous support resources, including mentorship programs.
Competition for the $1.5 million in available grants this cycle was fierce. Only 20 companies out of 183 were successful.
Hale said Utah's entrepreneurial ecosystem has been expanding by leaps and bounds, and the state Legislature has recognized and responded to the need to keep pace with the burgeoning startup community by nearly doubling the grant funding, adding $1.2 million in the coming fiscal year.
Turley said while his company had received some additional financial backing, the grant was pivotal.
"It really is helping us move up to that next level," Turley said. "It would have been really difficult to do some of the stuff we're doing now without the funds."
This year's crop of candidates are working on ideas that span a wide range of inspiration and expertise. Other product ideas included a novel rescue inhaler design called Sidekick that eliminates the need for the awkward plastic spacer that's familiar to those with respiratory challenges like asthma; a microsurgery coupler to re-join veins and arteries; a new design for a medical ventilator; and a re-thinking of the ubiquitous flourescent light tube, but this time with LED illumination and the ability to dim, trigger colors and be controlled via wireless remote from a company called InnoSys.
Software/IT solutions were also well-represented, with a new approach to mediated genealogy searches from Ancestor Cloud; a net security evaluation program from Whistic; and a distributed cloud storage system from Storj.
Priyanka Bakaya, founder and CEO of PK Clean, a Salt Lake City company that's innovated a system for recovering fuel from recycled plastic, also participated in demo day as a second-time grant recipient. She said the funding was critical for her team's ongoing efforts as they compete against companies who have garnered tens of millions in outside funding.
As for the quality of the innovations presented Tuesday, one veteran funder had only praise for what he saw.
"I've been to many similar events and this group did very, very well," said Brad Dickson, board chairman of Park City's PandoLabs Innovation Center and himself an angel investor. "It's definitely on par and the level of mentorship that these innovators have had definitely comes through."