Most serious entrepreneurs will go to great lengths to build a better mousetrap. Engineer Hao Li is so dedicated to his entrepreneurial dream he traveled more than 10,000 miles to pursue it, emigrating from his native China to Columbia, Mo.
The "better mousetraps" he envisions will help dentists and orthopedists offer more reliable and longer-lasting materials to help their patients.
Hao, assistant professor in the mechanical and aerospace engineering department at MU's College of Engineering, specializes in materials science. He focuses his research on biomaterials, nanonstructured materials, composites and medical devices. He plans to develop more reliable orthopedic, dental and cardiovascular devices to meet a growing demand from the health care community.
Like other ambitious students at one of the top engineering schools in China (Xi'an Jiaotong University), Hao wanted to get the best doctoral-level engineering training and to study high-tech approaches in the United States. He joined the faculty at MU in 2005, after earning his doctorate at Stevens Institute of Technology in New Jersey and pursing post-doctoral studies at Brown University in Rhode Island.
Hao's engineering research helps him envision commercial applications. His first steps in that direction involved pursuing research grants.
"My current research is primarily funded by research grants from the National Science Foundation, the Environmental Protection Agency and the University of Missouri," says Hao.
"I started working on orthopedic and dental implants in 1996, when I was a graduate student in China. Since then I have been working with many doctors and dentists, and I saw the need of patients for more reliable biocompatible medical devices."
Hao hatched the idea for starting a company many years ago. But it was only after his arrival at MU in 2005 that he incorporated his company, Nanova Inc., with the help of several colleagues: Dr. Quingsong Yu, assistant professor of mechanical engineering at MU; Dr. Meng Chen, an electrical engineer with 10 years of experience in medical devices; and Dr. Kenneth Lambert, an orthopedist.
"Our company's short-term goal is to successfully commercialize our first medical device by the end of 2010," says Hao. "Our long-term goals are to establish the infrastructure to help researchers develop and commercialize better medical devices in the orthopedic, dental and cardiovascular areas."
While he has made great strides with his research and his company, Hao knows significant progress comes only with much time and work.
"Product development takes quite a bit of effort, certainly more than I expected," he admits. "We also lack the expertise in management and business operation. Fortunately we have found people with the expertise in both areas to help us."
Those business experts — Jim Gann, small business and technology specialist, and Paul Rehrig, technology and commercialization specialist — are part of MU's University Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (UCIE), which hosts the Missouri Small Business & Technology Development Center (MO SBTDC).
"Jim has provided great help in the business area, such as analyzing the market, developing investor relationships, and writing a business plan," says Hao. "Paul mainly has helped us to secure federal funding with his expertise in federal SBIR/STTR grants."
Hao has found Gann's years of business experience have helped Nanova address immediate challenges, and is providing a framework from which the entrepreneur can plan for future growth and development of his company. Rehrig's technical background in engineering and technology commercialization has helped Hao identify additional funding opportunities and hone his grant proposals.
With the dual goals of building better materials and tools for medicine and dentistry while also building a viable commercial enterprise, MU engineering Professor Hao Li has found at UCIE the reliable MO SBTDC specialists to tap in quest of commercial success.
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