Path to The Marketplace
Author(s): Linda Terhune and TIm Brouk
Photographs by: Mark Simons, Steven Yang, TIm Brouk, David Howarth and Yelp
Alec Gorge is fast out of the gate as a College of Science freshman.
The 2012 recipient of the Lilly- Purdue Alumni Scholarship, he already runs two companies — the Web design and IT firm Tinitt, and the software firm Ramblingwood. Both companies grew in popularity in the fall while the 19-year-old conquered his first semester as a computer science major.
Gorge entered Purdue with a strong background in computer science, earned at Indianapolis’ Brebeuf Jesuit Preparatory School. He was the only freshman in most of his classes, which were dominated by sophomores and juniors.
Gorge mainly develops iPhone apps with Ramblingwood, and he has shied away from Android apps. He hopes, though, to expand with the help of fellow CS students who have studied Android technology in their classes.
So far, Ramblingwood’s most popular app has been a free one for Edline, a website that is like the high school equivalent of Blackboard. Gorge found the Edline site unwieldy, especially
on his phone. So, in three days, he developed an app for his high school to use. Then he went worldwide. The current Edline app for iPhones averages about 500 downloads a day and has been downloaded more than 100,000 times so far.
“It’s been a labor of love and it’s been fun,” says Gorge of Edline’s success.
During the spring semester, Gorge and Tinitt co-owner Kevin Lehtinitty, a high school friend and a freshman at University of Illinois, expanded Tinitt’s online presence and grew that business into the summer.
Word has gotten out about Gorge’s development skills and the teenager has had to rebuff job offers to balance Tinitt, Ramblingwood and his class load at Purdue. Gorge prefers to take things a semester at a time. At this point in his life, one year is an enormous amount of time.
“So many opportunities come up,” he says, “Every few weeks, I’m getting calls and email on different projects that I could be doing. Since I’ve been (at Purdue), I’ve had to turn down four or five fairly substantial things I wanted to do but had to turn down because I didn’t have time.”
From left: David Nolte, Ran An and John Turek
When David Nolte met John Turek in 1999, a research match was made and a company that could help revolutionize tissue imaging was born.
Nolte is a laser physicist and symmetrical objects like round tumors lend themselves to mathematical analysis. Turek is a professor of basic medical sciences in the College of Veterinary Medicine and adjunct professor of anatomy and cell biology at the IU School of Medicine. He had experience with spherical tumors. The two were gathered at a cross-campus meeting of imaging researchers. They talked, discovered kindred interests and have been collaborating ever since on 3-D speckle tomography for medical applications in tissue imaging with a focus on drug discovery and personalized medicine.
Nolte had been studying the way light scatters inside turbid media. Turek had grown tumors. Tissues in the body, it turns out, are a turbid medium. Physics
meets biology. This was not a stretch for Nolte.
“I like to jump out of my comfort zone, go to where I am floundering around and don’t know the answer,” he says. Adds Turek, “Biology, then, is the perfect medium for him.”
The two narrowed their focus to optical coherence imaging (OCI) a variant of optical coherence tomography (OCT), which captures three-dimensional images using a laser scan of biological samples. OCI does not use a scanning laser and captures full-frame images. They initially sought to study effects on the periphery of the field by enhancing the speckling, or graininess, seen in images like what is seen in ultrasounds. However, they found there was more functional information in the speckle and by using low-coherence digital holography (volumetric imaging) they could detect sub-cellular motion inside tissue.
Each speckle in a biomedical image, such as an ultrasound, is an interferometer that in its changes carries valuable information. Using tissue dynamics spectroscopy, the two researchers have been able to enhance the biological signals. They call their technique ”biodynamic imaging” and are developing revolutionary instrumentation that operates on the principles of motion, thus capturing more detailed information on the internal functioning of cells in living tissue. They are detecting function, while standard microscopes detect form (or structure). Ultimately, they’d like to retrofit traditional microscopes with their new imaging platform.
The tissue dynamics imaging technology could be used in drug discovery for anti-cancer drugs. No two patients’ cancers are alike, says Nolte, yet all patients receive the same drugs. Their new tool could be used for drug screening and testing to help personalize medicine for drug response and efficacy, such as mapping biopsies and selecting the best chemotherapeutic agents.
“We can identify the therapeutic window for the drug using individual healthy tissue and personalizing the drug mix andsequence,” Turek explains.
The team is commercializing the technology through its company, Animated Dynamics, or AniDyn, located at the Purdue Research Park. The researchers have five patents filed. This is Nolte’s second company; the first was started with analytical chemistry colleague Fred Regnier, the J. H. Law Distinguished Professor, using Quadrispec BioCD technology to detect proteins in blood. The BioCD product line was sold to a veterinary company.
“Our technology has very wide applications,” Nolte says of his current endeavor. “We have a revolutionary technology. We used it for tumor spheroids, which grow in a manmade environment, but it can be applied to almost any living biological sample. This is a brand-new tool in the scientists’ toolbox that does something others can’t do. It could be in every lab in the world.”
A doctoral pursuit that includes business
Ran An, who began a doctorate in physics with Nolte in 2009, is part of the imaging technology team and brings both physics and business acumen to the group. He handles the business side of
AniDyn, drafting a business plan that recently won the 26th Annual Burton D. Morgan Business Plan Competition.
An has both optical physics and business degrees from China, and has long been interested in experimental science that, as he says, has applications you can touch and see.
“I didn’t want to do pure science,” An says. “I wanted it to be a combination of science and business so I could commercialize or run
In addition to spinning off the work of Nolte and Turek, and creating an imaging platform and analysis method for use in drug screening, An is enrolled in the Technology Realization Program at the Burton D. Morgan Center for Entrepreneurship. The program aims to help graduate students understand the challenges of managing the development and introduction of new ideas/technologies from the lab bench to the marketplace.
“When I was in college,” An says, “we believed that science and commercialization should be separate because you can become too focused on the money and not on real science. But at Purdue I have realized there is a way to combine science and technology. The barriers are high, but you can be a very successful scientist as well as a businessman. You need both.”
The patent attorney
Sarah Klosek, chemistry student, had a plan. Go to graduate school for a doctorate, do lab research, work as a teaching assistant and write journal articles.
She liked explaining things to people and problem solving. Along the way, though, she took a molecular biotechnology course in which patent law was discussed. That sealed the deal: detour to law school.
Klosek (MS ’00, chemistry) is now on the other side of the lab bench as a patent attorney. Yet she is still able to write about innovation and she is still able to satisfy her love of teaching.
“When you’re going through the process of writing a patent application with an inventor, you’re having to educate the inventor a little about the information you need from him or her to craft the application,” Klosek says.
“You’re also teaching the general public about cutting-edge technology and getting yourself educated. You’re teaching, writing and learning new science.”
To sit for the patent bar exam, attorneys must satisfy certain scientific and technical training requirements. Klosek, who is based out of the Princeton, New Jersey, office of the national law firm Fox Rothschild, uses her chemistry background in her focus on technologies ranging from pharmaceuticals and medical devices to organic chemistry and spectroscopy. Among her clients are many who are affiliated with universities.
“It’s very important for the research in the labs to not occur in a (figurative) vacuum, for scientists to be aware of the impact their work can have on realworld life,” she says. “It will help guide the work, make it more valuable and improve research. Otherwise, what would be your utility? The reward at end of the day is to help solve a problem in a new and innovative way.”
During her days as a science student, Klosek says, patenting seemed a remote, elusive process. Now, she’s immersed in the activity – in a sea of invention. “When writing about cutting-edge technology it’s not the basics, it’s not what you’re going to find in textbooks,” she says.
A firm believer in taking great research beyond a published paper and putting it to work in the real world, Klosek has handled cases such as:
- Turning recycled plastics into high-strength structural materials for bridges.
- Drug delivery systems.
- Fireproofing materials.
- Molecules for medicinal purposes, like treating cancer.
There’s always room for more, she says. “There are always problems to solve, always new and innovative ways to use known products. As long as there is a problem to solve, patent law will continue to grow and the laws continue to evolve to meet the changing needs of innovators.”
Historic changes in U.S. patent laws took effect on March 16 — a result of the nation’s 2011 America Invents Act — and Klosek is busier than ever. “It’s an exciting time to be in patent law,” she says, as the law changes to align with other countries, from a first-to-invent basis to one of first-inventor-to-file.
“We are re-educating ourselves and helping educate our clients, shifting their mindsets, and changing how they approach research and patent filing strategies. Before, they had the opportunity to delay filings, because their lab books could show the date of their inventions, but now, with first inventor to file getting the patent, it’s file early and file often.
“Helping people navigate the legal process is problem solving,” Klosek says of her work. “It’s never the same problem twice, so I never get bored with it.”
As a child, Yu Xia watched her father prepare chemistry experiments for his high school classroom in Sichuan Province, China. She was fascinated by the experiments — especially ones like metal and acid reacting to produce hydrogen gas — and so she determined to become a scientist.
Xia studied organic chemistry at Lanzhou University, earned a master’s degree at Shanghai Institute of Materia Medica, then came to Purdue for a doctorate with chemist Scott McLuckey, working on gas phase reaction. After completing her degree in 2006, she spent two years as an assistant research scientist with Professor R. Graham Cooks, using mass spectrometry to measure the mass of ions. Her work focused on using chemistry to gather information about sugar molecules, a frequent modification to proteins that play a role in fertilization and the immune system.
Named assistant professor of chemistry by Purdue in 2009 and a recipient of the 2013 American Society for Mass Spectrometry Research Award, Xia is working to expand the capability of mass spectrometry. She is using it to look at the subtleties of biological structure, i.e., structure isomers, not just mass. The research aims at developing new methods and instrumentation of mass
spectrometry for characterizing biomolecules and studying their gas-phase ion chemistry.
Radicals play important roles in biological systems via reactions toward a wide variety of biomolecules. Xia and her team are studying ion/radical reactions via a gas-phase approach, where mass spectrometry is employed to enable the reactions and also characterize the reaction products. They have found that hydroxyl radicals can cleave disulfide bonds via dissociation addition, and are studying the fundamental aspects of the reaction and also applying it to characterize peptides/proteins containing disulfide bonds.
Xia holds several patents in this area and is collaborating with AB Sciex, an instrumentation company, on developing equipment adapted to detecting subtleties.
“As an analytical chemist, I will be happy if my tool can be used not only by analytical chemists but others in many different labs and hospitals to solve problems,” Xia says. “It is the nature of analytical chemistry to provide better methodology. If you can do things better, why not use it?”
Xia’s student, Chasity Love, was drawn to chemistry as an undergraduate because of an interest in forensic science. With Xia, she is concentrating on mass spectrometry because of her interest in the technical aspects of the research and its use for solving real-world problems.
Love, who grew up in East Saint Louis, Illinois, eventually hopes to start a mentoring/tutoring program to draw underprivileged students into the STEM disciplines. Before that, though, she would like to work at a pharmaceutical company to gain experience about the consumer world or forensic crime lab.
Either way, learning about business and topics from accounting to organizational change and leadership will be of benefit. And so Love has applied to the Krannert School of Management’s Applied Management Principles (AMP) program, a two-week, six-hour-a-day introduction to the world of business designed for existing industry or startup ventures, be they in mass spectrometry or education.
“I have a strong desire to start my own tutoring and mentoring business,” Love says. “The youth are the future, so I want to do all that I am capable of to empower them. I want to set up tutoring/ mentor centers with emphasis on the STEM fields for children in poverty-stricken areas. I have hopes of expanding these centers to international countries that are underdeveloped.”
When Ted Moore was 8, he envisioned life as a paleontologist. Dinosaurs were his passion, but learning about and solving the problems of the universe ran a close second. And so physics came into his life and took him through Purdue and the semiconductor industry and into the high-end audio business.
As founder and chief operating officer of Indy Audio Labs, Moore is right where he wants to be — “solving detailed and intricate and complex problems” for the consumer electronics industry.
Moore (BS ’87, physics and mathematics; MS ’92, physics) went to work for the electronics and technology company Delphi after graduation, taking a position in its semiconductor division. While working full time, he completed a master’s in physics at Purdue, a period that he wryly describes as “a pretty grim time.” This was remedied by a more exciting time during which he and his wife backpacked around the world for six months. And, to balance the play with work, he followed that adventure by enrolling for a doctorate in physics at the University of Pittsburgh.
“I’ve always had this liking for practical applications of science, coupled with the more theoretical side,” Moore says. “I was working full time as an engineer, solving practical problems in the semiconductor industry and honing in on the theoretical while getting my master’s.”
The combination of theory and practicality appealed to Moore, who saw that the marriage of the two led to economic impact. The lure of the business world, which had started to draw him during his master’s studies, proved to be strong. With newborn twins, a side business developing physics programs for a multimedia education venture, and the siren call of entrepreneurship, Moore quit his doctoral studies and returned to the business world.
He worked for the next eight years as a senior staff engineer for LSI Logic in Colorado Springs, Colorado. His focus was on advanced wafer manufacturing technologies, earning him three patents related to enhancing the quality of the silicon substrates used in chip manufacturing. “It was a great opportunity to marry deep science with almost immediate financial reward,” he says.
“I have a strong science focus. The way I like to see it manifested is not in a paper but in a product or in a process that can be commercialized,” Moore says. “That’s been a major component of how I operate in any business I’m involved with, whether running it or as a key engineer.”
In the late 1990s, Moore launched a startup, Tazzo Motorsports, that created small diagnostic computers for automobiles using accelerometers, which are now commonplace but were novel at the time. The equipment used core physics to measure how fast cars were accelerating and to analyze performance. He also created a way to analyze fuel injection efficiency. And he was an advisor to Solmirus, a company that manufactured scientific instruments. His role was in designing equipment used for atmospheric metrology to support the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope development in Chile. He also consulted with a solar cell manufacturer.
By this time, wading more deeply into the business world, Moore had moved to Florida and was working as an independent consultant in the semiconductor industry. His work ranged from nanotechnology to material science and scientific instrumentation, with product development for institutional and niche markets. Still, he wanted to explore more recognizable items for consumer markets.
A job as senior director of electronic systems at Klipsch, an Indianapolis audio technology company, brought him back to Indiana in 2007. In 2008, when the national economy faltered, Moore and co-worker Rick Santiago left the audio company to start Indy Audio Labs, purchasing two of Klipsch’s brands: Aragon and Acurus.
The company’s first products, Internet-connected amplifiers, hit the market in fall 2011. These products can be connected via mobile interface to home networks, straight out of the box, preserving acoustics with low distortion and high power. Moore’s team is now working on a processor system for a complete 21st century home theater solution. In 18 months, the company, with its designs manufactured in southern Indiana, launched six new models.
Moore, serial entrepreneur, believes that his fascination with science and business is not unnatural. He challenges an attitude he feels is still too common in academia: that science should be done for science’s sake. Or, as he says, an attitude that suggests, “If you’re in science, why don’t you just do science and be happy about it? Why start your own company?
“With kids in science, we haven’t got past this either/or mentality,” Moore says. “It’s not either/or. They’re not mutually exclusive activities. You can be a scientist and publish your work, but you can also look for opportunities where that work can manifest as a commercial product or process.”
For Moore, a focus on commercializing situates him in a favorite spot — at the intersection of science and business. “When we develop products, it’s hard-core science involved — distortion, noise, heat transfer,” he says. “It really comes down to how you express the work, as a product or a paper. You can do both, and the doing both is where it needs to get to.”
In October 2012, Michael Stoppelman, vice president of engineering for Yelp, a highly successful social networking and user review website, stood in front of a group of Purdue computer science students modeling a type of success many hope to have.
He had returned to Purdue as a speaker during the Department of Computer Science’s 50th anniversary events and told the students that his professional path was not linear, but it had been successful. “I had ideas of where I wanted to go, and that’s not exactly how it turned out, but it turned out well,” he said.
As a freshman, Stoppelman headed first into electrical and computer engineering. He quickly realized, though, that his interest in computer security would be better served in the College of Science’s computer science program. There, he could explore subjects outside of his discipline.
He filled his mind with as much about computer security as he could, from reading “The Cuckoo’s Egg,” a thriller about computer espionage, to internships including one with Global Integrity, a computer security company. It was a bioinformatics class, though, that caught his interest and got him involved with a focus he would take into the world after graduation.
During that class, he worked on an open source project related to the human genome project, where he wrote Jython to create a middleware layer above genomic databases. This led to an internship at the MIT/Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research, where he worked on the human genome project. Then, it was on to work with protein folding predictions using mass spectrometers and algorithms. With each new discovery, his passion burned brighter.
Stoppelman says he learned a valuable lesson: “You can be passionate about something but still be bored.” He had learned also that his extroverted, exuberant personality — this is a man who favors terms like “super psyched” and “passion” — might not be suited to research.
“Not everyone is as extroverted as me and not everyone gets so excited,” he says. “There are so many people in our field who don’t express how exciting computer science is. Usually you discover something. It’s 3 a.m. and there’s no one there.“
In 2003, degree in hand, Stoppelman took his exuberance and sense of adventure to San Diego, where he lived in an extended-stay hotel and hoped to find work with a startup. The economy was bad, the job market was worse, and most venture capital money was focused further north in Silicon Valley. So he moved to San Francisco and was hired by a relatively new company called Google as a support engineer. He worked 9 p.m. to 5 a.m., and was quickly determined to find a better position and more humane hours within the company. He built a fraud script that was eventually deployed by the company. But once again he was getting bored.
About that time, 2004, Stoppelman’s brother, Jeremy, a University of Illinois computer science alumnus, co-founded Yelp, a social networking website that was growing quickly. In 2007, Michael Stoppelman was lured aboard as software engineer and later became manager of search, spam and mobile, then director, and in 2010, vice president of engineering.
As a computer science student, Stoppelman had taken classes outside of his major. He filled up on as many psychology courses as he could, and credits what he learned with helping him manage a company that now employs more than 1,300 people.
“When you’re operating at the scale of organization we’re at now, those courses help when you’re managing 200 folks,” he says. “As soon as you go outside the one-, two-, three-person range, you get into group dynamics and the psychology of humans.”
Stoppelman’s interest in social dynamics extends beyond the workplace to the community at large, which is one of the reasons he was attracted to Yelp, he says, and not YouTube or Facebook, which were also in their nascent stages at that point. A self-described “utilitarian,” Stoppelman is pleased that through its listings and consumer reviews, Yelp “channels funds to the business people.”
“Yelp stood out as a unique place because of the utility it provides to the community,” he says. “No other place had the straight utility that allows local businesses and mom and pop businesses to have democratized voices. I think that is really strong and powerful. It is history being curated and put online. We talk about it as being ‘word of mouth’ amplified.”
In the seven years that Stoppelman has been at Yelp, the company has grown from a team of six developers to more than 100, and from a few hundred thousand searches a day to more than 100
million unique visitors a month.
“The growth is what keeps you on your toes,” Stoppelman says. “If it’s not growing, it becomes stale. Growth is an important feature of any business and that’s what keeps you excited.”