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Deshpande Center expands grant program to all MIT faculty

The Deshpande Center for Technological Innovation, whose mission is to bridge the gap between laboratory research at MIT and the marketplace, has just announced that its spring 2005 call for proposals will be open to faculty members from any area of the Institute. Up until now, only faculty in the School of Engineering have been eligible.

"We want all MIT faculty to benefit from the funding and expertise the Deshpande Center provides," said Krisztina Holly, executive director of the center. "We expect to attract a wide variety of proposals for innovations with commercial potential by broadening our grant program."

The Deshpande Center's grants, market input, and connections with the business community have been remarkably effective in getting research to market. This month, a research team that developed a novel 3-D imaging system with funding from the center formed a startup company, becoming the third commercial technology to come out of the center. Since its founding in 2002, the center has funded 38 projects totaling $4.3 million.

The new company, Brontes Technologies Inc., raised its first round of financing from three top-tier venture capital firms: Bain Capital Ventures, Charles River Ventures, and IDG Ventures. It is developing a compact, portable, versatile system capable of converting 2-D optical devices such as cameras, microscopes and endoscopes into 3-D imaging instruments for use in medical procedures, industrial inspection, facial recognition and entertainment.

Charles L. Cooney, faculty director of the Deshpande Center, said that "with its fast start, Brontes Technologies has made the leap from research lab to new enterprise in exactly the way we envisioned when the Deshpande Center was formed in 2002." The company joins two other spinoffs: a biotechnology company called Pervasis Therapeutics, and a memory-cell technology that was licensed to a nanotechnology firm last April.

Professor Douglas Hart of mechanical engineering led the 3-D imaging research, working with research scientist Janos Rohaly and Ph.D. candidates Federico Frigerio and Sheng Tan. After the Deshpande Center awarded the team an Innovation Grant in October 2002, it helped recruit two Boston-area entrepreneurs, Eric Paley and Micah Rosenbloom, to evaluate the project's commercial potential, develop a business plan and raise capital. Paley is CEO and Rosenbloom is COO of the new company.

This week, five new projects and three existing projects received Deshpande Center grants, selected from a pool of 34 applicants. The $699,000 in grants will fund the development of innovations including a new method of early cancer detection, a breakthrough in the cost of manufacturing fuel cells, and a new way to manufacture ice cream.

"Our team is thrilled to get a Deshpande grant. The funding comes at a critical time for us, and we are also looking forward to the 'collateral' benefits of the center that will help us meet the right people and understand the potential markets for our technology," said Anuradha Murthy Agarwal, a research associate in the Materials Processing Center who won a grant for work on low-cost, multispectral photodetector arrays. She is working with Professor Lionel Kimerling, director of the Materials Processing and Microphotonics Centers.

The deadline for pre-proposals for the spring 2005 grants is Nov. 22. See the center's web site for more information.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on October 27, 2004 (download PDF).

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