UGA leads nation in helping entrepreneurs make dreams a reality

ATHENS, Ga. — A program at the University of Georgia is helping entrepreneurs and the state's economy.

Leaders at UGA said talented university researchers have good ideas, but not necessarily the tools to start a business. The University’s Innovation Gateway program is getting those ideas out of the lab and into the hands of consumers who need them most.

“This technology is so cool, but does it solve a problem?” asked UGA grad Song Kue.

Kue said mentors and resources at the Innovation Gateway were a big part of her startup’s success. Her company, Mira Blue, uses micro capsules to protect probiotics from harmful stomach acid.

“At first I was just focused on the science and I realized startups are all encompassing. I had to learn how to make a website, to going through the financials and going to the marketing and sales," she said.

Executive Director Derek Eberhart said the Innovation Gateway “illuminates the path” for Bulldog breakthroughs.

“Nearly half of all startup companies fail because nobody cares about the product their making,” Eberhart said. “Let’s find out, first of all, does anybody care about this product?”

The numbers suggest that access to business know-how is working. The Association of University Technology just ranked UGA No. 1 out of 193 US institutions for bringing commercial products to market. According to UGA three out of four university-affiliated startups stay in Georgia, creating $130 million in state job growth. They create $10.5 million in licensing revenue and more than 175 companies have been created based on the UGA’s research. Eberhart says one of the university's most substantial benefits impacts the state’s biggest moneymaker, agriculture.

"Turning an idea into a product, a business, is really challenging,” said UGA alum Erico Mattos.

When he brought his doctoral research to the Innovation Gateway, he learned it wasn’t a viable business. Gateway mentors helped him pivot and his smart greenhouse lighting system Candidus was born.

Mattos said it can cost $80 million a month an acre to light a greenhouse. His lighting system works in tandem with sunlight, keeping cost down and production of produce up. He just received a big U.S. Department of Agriculture grant that will help him launch his product commercially.

Kue said she is also seeing results. Two probiotic companies are asking for samples of her micro capsules. She said she believes enterprising students shouldn’t be afraid to go into business for themselves.

“Would you rather work 40 to 60 hours making someone else’s dream happen versus working 40, 60 hours a week making your own dream happen?” Kue asked.

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