UPDATE from University Tech Park | Early Spring 2015

FREE for all interested startups: Our March 25 seminar on SBIR-STTR success | Learn more

SPOTLIGHT on: ForeLight, Inc.

Growing a greener, cleaner future for the planet

Adam Flynn and Julie Moffitt are a lot like any other hardworking small business owners. They burn the candle at both ends and haven't had a real vacation in 4 years.

       "My big excitement is going to industry conferences," Moffitt says, laughing. "When you're covering as many different roles as we all do, there's not a lot of time to relax."

       The work of their 10-member team is gaining ground as their company, ForeLight, Inc., earns wider recognition for its proprietary technology for growing algae and other valuable photosynthetic organisms in a compact, self-contained reactor that can be located just about anywhere.

       The concept has already proven its value in several areas, many of which address crucial challenges such as pollution control, life sciences research and world food supplies.


 An ideal environment for growth


       ForeLight was founded in 2010 when Flynn and his research partners developed an early version of the photosynthetic bioreactors the company now uses to produce algae and cyanobacteria for a growing number of applications.

       The company moved to the University Technology Park in 2011 from its original home in Flynn's apartment, and the team began working to refine the reactor as they prepared their first patent applications.

       As they've worked through what are now 18 generations of prototypes, focusing on controlling temperature, water quality and nutrient delivery to create the optimum growth environment, ForeLight's staff has seen numerous applications for their new technology take shape.

Fluorescent dyes for medical research

       The first commercialization of the company's technology serves the needs of researchers in genetic engineering, systems biology, immunology, virology and medical diagnostics.

       "We're able to efficiently grow organisms that produce unique fluorescent dyes used in medical research," Moffitt explains. The dyes are used as fluorescent biomarkers in processes like flow cytometry, facilitating the identification of specific molecules like cancer cells in a blood sample, and can sell for as much as $10,000 per gram.

       Thanks to both the unique advantages of their bioreactor technology and the advanced purification processes led by Scientific Advisor Dr. Philip Laible, ForeLight's high-purity Illumesis™ fluorescent biomarkers are a welcome change for life sciences and medical R&D researchers. 

       Dye sales promised to provide revenue to fuel ForeLight's growth, and the team found that scientists were excited by the prospect of higher quality biomarkers with consistent year-round availability.  "So we sent them free samples, encouraging them to test our products and give us feedback," Moffitt says.

       Researchers responded positively to the offer, sharing data that helped prove the purity and quality of ForeLight's product. The company now has 2 major clients for their initial Allophycocyanin (APC) product line, and with a long list of customers waiting for their upcoming R-Phycoerythrin (R-PE) product release.

Working with an industry giant


       ForeLight's bioreactor is not only uniquely designed to provide an ideal growth environment, but is also fully scalable, using modular cells and a racking system that enables extremely dense growth on a very small footprint.  In 2014 the team came across a great opportunity to share these advantages with an agribusiness leader.

       "We entered the Illinois Corporate Startup Challenge sponsored by the Illinois Innovation Network," Moffitt says, "which meant we were competing with more than 200 startups for the chance to present our concept to Archer Daniels Midland.  In the end, 11 companies were selected to present, and we were very proud to be chosen for a strategic collaboration with ADM." 


Using algae to stem water pollution

       The Metropolitan Water Reclamation District (MWRD) of Greater Chicago is yet another organization helping ForeLight prove what its technology can do, with the MWRD board approving a collaborative research and development effort in February 2015.

       "The algae grown in our reactors can safely consume phosphorous and nitrogen in wastewater, and could produce a valuable crop in the process," explains Moffitt.

       "Conventional water purification methods can't fully remove these substances from our water supply, which until now has meant that Chicago is sending pollution downstream - all the way to the Gulf of Mexico. Our collaboration with the MWRD will demonstrate just how efficiently algae, and our unique bioreactor design, can be used to solve this problem." 

Nutritional supplements for vegetarians and vegans

       ForeLight's technology can also be used to produce supplements like Omega-3, Omega-6, DHA and EPA without relying on animal sources, a potential boon for those who follow vegetarian and vegan diets.

        Wider applications such as these will depend on ongoing refinement of the reactors' functions, including development of automated controls, Moffitt notes.

        "Currently we're monitoring and adjusting each reactor's functions manually," she says, "but we know that high-volume production would mean having one individual run an entire plant of reactors. We want to streamline operations so that that owners don't need a biotech background to oversee production."

       Ease of operation will be essential for most fields, especially agribusiness. "We want farmers and ranchers to be able to run dozens of reactors in order to feed their livestock," says Moffitt.


 Second lab leased for expanded production

       With so many milestones reached in the last 12 months, the team is feeling great about 2015. The company recently leased more lab space at UTP to support expanded production of fluorescent dyes.

       "We're glad that we can grow at UTP without having to move," Moffitt says. "This is a strong base of operations for us, and we're making the most of all the resources here to grow our company."



Welcome to 2 new companies!

Virtual.PYXIS is a U.S.-based maker of structural topology optimization software recommended for engineers and designers who need to create innovative components and assemblies with reduced mass. Developed by Brazilian scientists using concepts first introduced at the University of Sao Paulo, the software is able to handle from simple to complex optimization situations which may also involve non-linear analysis features (plasticity and contact) and compliant mechanism systems. 

     Virtual.PYXIS is the latest company to take advantage of UTP's Soft Landing Program for international startups.

 DeNovX is an innovative pharmaceutical technology providing platform products and services that accelerate pharmaceutical development while creating new intellectual property for commercially relevant drugs. Over 90% of active pharmaceutical ingredients are crystalline solids, and DeNovX's platform technologies reduce the risks associated with controlling the size, shape, and structure of these high-value materials while creating new IP to enhance competitive advantage and to extend product life cycles.

Meet Catherine Vorwald, UTP's New Director 

  Congratulations to Ms. Vorwald, who in addition to   her new role as Director of UTP has also been named Associate VP, Illinois Institute of Technology and Director of IIT Rental Properties. She will guide UTP's growth and development, oversee the support program offered for all UTP companies. More details in her complete bio.


FREE half-day seminar helps startups compete for SBIR & STTR awards


On Wed. March 25, UTP will welcome interested tech startups to a seminar with Dave Kellner, head of Cogent Innovations. Dave will help companies learn how to make their award applications stand out -- the first step in garnering federal dollars for growth. This free event includes a light breakfast and lunch. Class size is limited, so register now.