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Making a difference

We’re not interested in innovation for innovation’s sake — we back technologies that promote the social good. Learn more about our companies’ impact here.

Are you an awardee and have a success story to share? Tell us about it.

Custom digital voices for those unable to speak

More than 10 million people worldwide live with voicelessness. Many of them rely on text-to-speech devices and apps, all of which use the same few generic, mechanical voices to mimic human speech — a solution that’s practical but that diminishes users’ unique vocal identities. VocaliD creates custom digital voices by taking a tiny sample of someone’s voice.

To learn more, visit https://www.vocalid.co/.

Growing bricks with bacteria

More than 80% of global construction uses bricks. Each year, 1.23 trillion bricks are produced, resulting in 800 million tons of carbon emissions, according to bioMASON, a small business funded by the America’s Seed Fund.

To learn more, visit biomason.com.

Polymer material

A polymer material (blue) targets drug activation of doxorubicin (red) to tumors, minimizing toxicity because the drug is shielded while in the blood (green).

New drug delivery technology for tumor treatment

Shasqi, a small business funded by the National Science Foundation, is developing a new way to deliver drugs to specific locations within the body to more effectively treat diseases such as cancer. The team, led by physician and chemist Dr. Jose M. Mejia Oneto, has created a targeting system that could enable effective therapy with lower doses of drugs and fewer harmful side effects.

The system works by first injecting a gel at the treatment site. The gel contains chemicals that combine with and activate an injected, attenuated form of a drug, such as a chemotherapeutic, to trigger its cancer-fighting effect only at the tumor or other targeted tissue. The experimental treatment has been successfully tested against tumors in mice, which experienced tumor shrinkage while maintaining healthier weights than mice receiving traditional chemotherapeutic treatments. Shasqi is funded by America’s Seed Fund powered by NSF. Photo credit: Shasqi

Dr. Jose M. Mejia Oneto Jose M. Mejia Oneto, founder and CEO of Shasqi.

Making plastics conductive

PolyDrop CEO Volha Hrechka wants to “complete the plastics revolution” by making plastics more conductive. Her company’s revolutionary product has its roots in the aerospace industry. “The Boeing 787 Dreamliner is 70% carbon-fiber composites,” Hrechka said, “but these don’t conduct electricity.” This poses efficiency and safety issues; excess static-charge buildup in planes can interfere with sensitive electronics and navigation systems. Making plastics conductive will make planes lighter and extend the functionality of those plastics, ultimately reducing costs and potentially saving lives.

To learn more, visit polydrop.net.

Sustainable synthetic bait

Each year, commercial crustacean fishing outfits spend nearly $20 billion on forage (bait) fish. The costs incurred aren’t just monetary, however. Bait fish usage in this sector could lead to overfishing and depletion of forage fish species, which may, in turn, harm other animal populations. Kepley Biosystems hopes to reduce these harms.

To learn more, visit kepleybiosystems.com/organobait/.

Improving LED brightness and reducing power consumption

Rob Nordsell

“The National Science Foundation was instrumental in getting our company off the ground. We had identified a high-value problem in LEDs that demanded a solution and we identified a unique approach to solving that problem. However, acquiring investor capital for seed stage R&D is very difficult and the investors that do participate in such early financings look to external sources and experts to validate the technology and approach. Our NSF award was, in fact, that source of validation and within two weeks of having received our SBIR Phase I award we closed our Seed round. The NSF is a critical resource for deep-tech startups and we are thankful to have received NSF support throughout Phase I and Phase II.”

“The company started with two founders doing chemistry in a garage, and today the company employs a total of 10 full-time Ph.D. scientists, including the founders, and four part-time Ph.D. scientists. The company is launching its first product by the end of 2017, and this progress would not have been possible without the support of the NSF.”

Rob Nordsell
CEO, Lumenari, Inc.