UARF, Akron Ascent Innovations and the ongoing growth of the polymer industry

In another important step in the growth and evolution of the polymer industry in Northeast Ohio, Akron Ascent Innovations (AAI), a startup company formed by University of Akron Research Foundation (UARF) was recently sold.

That is part of an ongoing process that began around 1870 and first made Akron the “Rubber Capital of The World,” then created such a broad array of polymer-related companies that Northeast Ohio is today known as Polymer Valley.

With the start of the world’s first rubber chemistry research program in 1913 at the University of Akron — later grew the College of Polymer Science and Polymer Engineering — UA began to plant the seeds that would play a significant role in the growth of the region’s polymer industry. It did so by reaping the results of fundamental research, together with that of scientists and polymer companies around the region.

The creation of new technological knowledge through R&D is our most direct economic avenue for acquiring added value. Quantifying new knowledge in a market environment creates fuller employment, capital formation, growing profits and surpluses for reinvestment. Research begets new companies, which beget new jobs, which beget economic expansions and, ultimately, the creation of new wealth.

AAI is but one of several startup companies coming out of R&D at The University of Akron and facilitated by UARF. The success of AAI began from research on what it is that enables geckos to readily climb vertical surfaces, including glass, and even cling upside down from a ceiling.

From that basic curiosity about how nature enables geckos to do that, researchers developed polymer compounds that mimic the way the animals are able to stick-and-release effortlessly from various surfaces. The company is developing products to adhere things without mechanical fasteners and be easily removable and reused without damaging surfaces they are applied to.

This is just one example of how UARF has learned that strategically collaborating and partnering with companies and innovators can greatly accelerate technology commercialization from R&D at the university. By understanding the needs of companies, researchers can focus on potential solutions, and also sometimes make discoveries that can be the basis of entirely new companies.

UARF’s expertise harnessed the experience of talented individuals with a wide range of backgrounds, including corporate experience, knowledge of university R&D, the protection of intellectual property and the many different approaches to partnering with companies to speed up commercialization.

With assistance from state and federal programs that provide early stage capital, and by establishing the ARCHangels, a network of investors and innovators to further connect and facilitate startups, UARF has put in motion an array of new companies, technology license agreements, collaborations and partnerships that will continue to add economic value for years to come.

As UARF’s Barry Rosenbaum has said, “ … the key point for UARF is driving university technology commercialization. In our Northeast Ohio community, which is heavily manufacturing oriented, the best path forward is establishing collaborations and partnerships between universities and innovation-oriented businesses at early stages of research programs. Our universities must become more focused on industry needs and our businesses must become more focused on new innovations to be more competitive globally.”

Luis M. Proenza is president emeritus of The University of Akron