Correction: In a previous version of this story, the Office of Technology Commercialization was attributed incorrectly. The Mercury regrets this error.
UTD’s startup scene got another boost this winter when BackStop Neural, a campus-based bioelectronics company, presented at the 2016 Materials Research Society conference in Boston.
Backstop creates spinal cord simulators that tie shape memory polymer research to a neuroscience application, producing devices which can be implanted while stiff and rigid in surgery. The devices then soften and conform to the spinal cord.
“Of the 30,000 spinal cord simulators implanted in the U.S. annually, 30 percent fail,” said Sydney Sherman, a sophomore biomedical engineer and head of product development for BackStop Neural.
The startup is licensed under the parent company Qualia, a UTD bioelectronics company. They have applied for several grants and hope to connect to the larger bioelectronics base.
“Part of the point of going to the conference was to speak with investors in the area. With that in mind, (BackStop Neural) presented with Qualia. We wanted to reach out and make initial contact and plant the seeds there,” said Connie Manz, a recent UTD graduate and the CEO of Qualia.
Many of the products fail because the leads on the simulators migrate when people with stimulators installed on their spines move around excessively. The material used in BackStop’s technology allows it to be fixed in place despite temperature changes.
Sherman said the company was well-received.
“The biggest success was the positive feedback, people being interested in it. We got good feedback about the company, the technology, where we’re going with it and some good ideas for different things we can try,” Sherman said.
For Manz, the success from the conference has much to do with UTD’s ability to advance startups on campus.
“UTD definitely is trying to work to be supportive of startups that are spinning out. We have a good relationship with the Office of Technology Commercialization. Qualia itself has an office in the Venture Development Center. Several of the undergrad students are involved in the business side of things, such as the Comet Accelerator,” she said.
Sherman also praised the exceptional startup culture at UTD.
“UTD has been excellent for startup space. Just as a university as a whole, it is helpful to try and do a startup with them versus being at another university that did not support it,” Sherman said.
She recommended that anyone interested in entrepreneurship should make an effort.
“The university is actually putting in a Blackstone Launchpad for any new startups that come from campus, so they’re really pushing that as a university, if anyone wants to try entrepreneurship,” she said.
Manz emphasized the opportunities are not just limited to science.
“If students are interested in getting in startups, even if they aren’t interested in the science and engineering aspects, they can still get involved in the business side of things,” she said. “The opportunities are out there, you should go look around on campus.”