April 24, 2006

UAlbany Plan Means Business

By: by Larry Rulison, Business Writer, Times Union


ALBANY -- It feels good to Harry Efstathiadis Emily Riley that they beat schools like the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, Duke University and Rice University to get to San Francisco.

Efstathiadis, a research scientist at the University at Albany's College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering, and Riley, a graduate student in UAlbany's business school, beat out the schools to get to the finals this week of a business plan competition organized by the Materials Research Society, a science nonprofit based in Warrendale, Pa.

The pair went head-to-head at the competition with teams from the University of Michigan and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Their entry was a business plan to commercialize a tiny thermoelectric generator to power pacemakers.

They didn't win -- Michigan won the $3,000 grand prize -- but they learned a lot about what it takes to commercialize a product for a multibillion-dollar industry.

"It was very exciting to find out how we would do against the top schools in the country," Efstathiadis said. "We were glad to be there."

Riley, 23, who will graduate with her MBA from UAlbany next month, was thrilled with the experience. She earned an undergraduate degree in English from UAlbany in 2004, and she never imagined getting involved in nanotechnology, which is technology and materials created on the atomic or molecular level.

But for the past year and a half, Riley has been working as a research assistant for Efstathiadis and Pradeep Haldar, the director of the Energy and Environmental Technology Applications Center at the college.

"I never in a million years imagined that I would be working in technology," Riley said. "This gave me more real world experience than an simulation I've ever done in the class room."

Efstathiadis and Riley flew Monday to San Francisco. On Tuesday night, they took part in the final competition, which included making a 20-minute presentation of their business plan to a panel of venture capitalists and answering their questions. The winner was announced at a dinner later that night. The two flew back to Albany on Wednesday.

Haldar called UAlbany's inclusion in the finals "a tribute" to both the nanotechnology college and the "outstanding efforts" of Efstathiadis and Riley.

The two believe there is a huge market for their product, for which they have filed a patent. Their research indicates that by 2009, the market for implantable cardiac devices will reach $15.6 billion. And they believe their product, which uses differences in the body's temperature to produce electricity, is better than current technology. They said that their generator, which is less than one-third the size of a regular pacemaker battery, can last 20 to 25 years, while a pacemaker battery now lasts about eight years. The generator could also be used in implantable defibrillators. Possible customers would be pacemaker manufacturers such as Medtronic, Guidant and St. Jude Medical, they said.

Efstathiadis, 43, developed the technology while working on a similar thermoelectric generator for automobiles. That project is funded with $100,000 from the New York State Energy Research and Development, according to a NYSERDA spokeswoman.

The total market for all thermoelectric generators is $2.5 billion, Efstathiadis said. He believes the pacemaker generator will one day be commercialized.

"It will end up there because it solves one of the major problems in this area," he said.