At the client showcase in Jefferson City in 2009, Dave Alburty of
InnovaPrep describes the invaluable help received from MO SBTDC,
gaining a MoTIP grant and SBIR assistance.
The prospect of bioterrorism has been a concern in our nation since the terrorist attacks on New York City nearly eight years ago. Since then civilian and military authorities have sought increasingly sophisticated approaches to biodefense and biohazard detection.
In a small Missouri town about 35 miles south of downtown Kansas City innovators are working on the problem.
A science and engineering team led by entrepreneurs Dave Alburty and Andy Page is developing a contaminant detection technology that uses unique methods to concentrate large initial sample volumes into very small final volumes for analysis. Their InnovaPrep system was originally developed for several U.S. government biodefense detection systems, according to Alburty, founder and president of AlburtyLab Inc. based in Drexel, Mo.
"The InnovaPrep system was principally designed for concentrating biological particles — such as proteins, toxins, viruses, DNA and bacteria — in the size range of approximately 0.001 micron to 20 microns in diameter," says Alburty.
At InnovaPrep LLC (a new company started as a result of the work done at AlburtyLab) the research team is developing detection-aiding devices intended for commercialization. Each is designed to help biohazard investigators analyze samples from various sources, such as solid surfaces; dry filters; fruits, vegetables and other irregularly shaped objects; and liquids.
The InnovaPrep process fills a need for automated systems capable of concentrating and preparing samples for analysis for multiple applications ... not only bioterrorism defense, but also medical diagnostics, pharmaceutical production, and food and beverage quality control.
|(Above) With the resulting material, Page demonstrates the operation of an early InnovaPrep research system.
(Right) A final concentrate is dispensed from the system.
(Above) This vial contains microspheres concentrated from the 10 milliliter test volume. Approximately 90 percent of the microspheres present in the 10 milliliter test volume are concentrated into this final volume by the InnovaPrep system. With real-world material this concentrate could provide a ready-to-analyze sample for medical diagnostics, environmental evaluations, food safety, or biodefense applications.
"We started in 2005 in the biodefense field doing some testing of air samplers used for bioterrorism defense," says Alburty. "I had recently left my engineering position at MRI (Midwest Research Institute) in Kansas City and saw the crying need for some company to do quick turnaround, small projects and to do the R&D behind the development of the aerosol collection technology."
Their goal at AlburtyLab was to match the real-world sample volumes with the tiny world of new lab-on-a-chip protection technologies.
"We invented a way to do that, which we call the InnovaPrep process," says Alburty.
Establishment of InnovaPrep LLC eventually followed. Page, a colleague of Alburty since their tenure at MRI, is president of the new company. They and their development staff have more than 50 universities, national labs and commercial entities interested in licensing their InnovaPrep process or buying their equipment.
After following the main track of focusing on the biodefense market — since that's the world they came from and whose clients they knew — Page and Alburty tapped the Small Business and Technology Development Center at the University of Missouri-Kansas City to help them learn more about commercializing their research and to broaden their markets. Consequently they've branched into veterinary diagnostics and medical point-of-care diagnostics. The advice they received from Denise Fields, SBTDC commercialization specialist, helped them determine what their products should look like.
"So we've taken this from the Jack Bauer-looking research models that we built initially on our own, and are focusing on a bench-top instrument that's an easy single-button tool for biologists to use in the laboratory."
In addition, Fields has helped the research and development duo improve their skills in pursuit of funding from public and private sources. This includes aid in honing applications for MoTIP grants, government SBIR applications, and presentations to angel investors at forums such as Invest Midwest. The company has received three MoTIP awards and two Phase 0 SBIR awards through the Leonard Wood Institute. It also applied for three Phase I SBIR grants and developed relationships with multiple companies to partner on other federal grants totaling $2 million, with the guidance of Fields.
"Denise Fields, our advisor and mentor at the SBTDC, is awesome," Alburty touts. "She's probably the most knowledgeable marketing and business growth person that I've ever personally met."
"The first thing anyone who wants to start a high-tech business in Missouri should do is talk to the SBTDC."
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This story was featured in the July 2009 newsletter.
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