Four faculty-led innovation teams have been selected to participate in the fifth cohort of the University of Maine’s Maine Innovation Research and Technology Accelerator (MIRTA) program. The 2022 projects will develop research innovations in accessibility education, aquaculture, computer-aided breast cancer detection and marine sciences.

MIRTA, run out of UMaine’s Foster Center for Innovation, assists teams from Maine research institutions to advance lab discoveries into public and commercial use. Teams work 20 hours a week for 16 weeks doing market research, intellectual property analysis and business model development to bring their inventions to market. Guiding them throughout the process are business incubation staff from the Foster Center. 

Additionally, each team has an advisory committee of industry and technology experts who provide feedback and advice. The teams are eligible for up to $25,000 each to help develop commercialization implementation plans.

To kick off the program, this year’s cohort recently completed an immersive boot camp designed to introduce them to all aspects of the commercialization process. 

Commercialization plans vary depending on the type of invention a team brings to MIRTA, and the end result could be starting a new company or licensing to an existing one.

From the 17 teams in the first four MIRTA cohorts, seven new startups have been formed, seven patents have been filed or issued, and the teams have collectively raised more than $2.3 million in external funding and prototype sales to support ongoing commercialization. Companies that have been formed after participation in MIRTA  include Neuright, winner of the $25,000 David Shaw prize at the statewide Top Gun accelerator program in 2019, and UNAR Labs selected to join the first cohort of the Roux Institute Startup Residency Program in 2021. 

MIRTA is made possible by support from the University of Maine System Research Reinvestment Fund (RRF) and the Maine Technology Institute. RRF is a pool of competitive internal grants allocated to advance research projects along the path from discovery to becoming commercial products with public benefit. All projects are tied to Maine businesses or industries critical to the future of the state.

The MIRTA 5.0 teams are: 

Future Fish Tags

Future Fish Tags is pursuing commercialization of biocompatible implants made from printed titanium foam metals in order to improve tissue integration and animal welfare, and maximize the retention of conventional and electronic tags used on aquatic animals.

Team: Walt Golet, assistant professor of marine sciences, University of Maine and Gulf of Maine Research Institute; Sammi Nadeau, Pelagic Fisheries Lab technician; with external partner Brian McLaughlin, founder and CEO, Amplify Additive

Oyster Pod  

Oyster Pod is pursuing commercialization of a 3D-printed aquaculture tank insert made from forest product feedstocks and bioplastic and designed to capitalize on the space-saving and energy-reducing principles of vertical aquaculture to maximize the growth of Eastern Oysters and improve efficiencies for Maine’s small shellfish farmers. 

Team: Doug Gardner, professor of sustainable materials and technology; Matthew Nixon, Ph.D. candidate, aquaculture and aquatic resources, and owner of Muddy River Farm Aquaponics

WAVED: Wavelet-based Assessment and Visualization for Early Detection

WAVED is pursuing commercialization of patented computer-aided detection (CAD) technology that uses a patient’s mammographic history and clinical data to identify the physical markers believed to be linked to malignant tumor onset and growth, leading to early detection of breast cancer. 

Team: Andre Khalil, professor of biomedical engineering, University of Maine; Kendra Batchelder, interdisciplinary Ph.D. candidate in computational biomedicine

Wheelchair Odyssey

Wheelchair Odyssey is pursuing development and commercialization of immersive software to simulate wheelchair navigation in inaccessible, real-world settings. The software will be designed for students in higher education so that they can experience the everyday obstacles that wheelchair users face, learn about related Americans with Disabilities Act access requirements, and hear first-person stories from people with disabilities. 

Team: Karen Barrett, professor and program coordinator of rehabilitation services, University of Maine at Farmington; J. Chad Duncan, chair/program director, orthotics and prosthetics, Salus University; Avery Olmstead, accessibility subject matter expert