S.D. wins competitive grant to support bioscience growth

Jan 05, 2018

S.D. wins competitive grant to support bioscience growth



A team from South Dakota has won a competitive federal grant to promote bioscience innovation and workforce development.

More than 200 entities applied for an i6 Challenge grant from the U.S. Department of Commerce, and 42 won.

That includes a South Dakota team that includes the Governor’s Office of Economic Development, area economic development associations and several South Dakota universities and their research organizations. The application was submitted by GOED and USD.

Leading the coordination effort is Mel Ustad, director of the South Dakota Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research, who is based at the University of South Dakota.

“This is a significant award,” he said. “It’s helping create an environment to move bioscience forward. The ecosystems created will be helpful to the state in attracting and supporting bioscience companies.”

The grant is valued at almost $1 million over three years.

The GOED and USD application was awarded funds for an expanded proof-of-concept and commercialization program.

Up to 10 proof-of-concept studies will be done each year. Teams will include researchers, entrepreneurs, technical and business students, equity investors and other strategic partners.

“Research has shown that proof-of-concept centers are vital to commercialize university-based research,” said Venky Venkatachalam, dean of the Beacom School of Business. “We are delighted to win the i6 Challenge grant.”

The projects will be integrated into course work at the USD Beacom School of Business, allowing students to work with companies “and do real-world projects to enhance their education and provide a benefit to the project and the company,” Ustad said.

The proof-of-concept projects are designed for work that has gone beyond early-stage research and is ready to look at scaling production and determining financial models moving toward commercialization, he added.

“We have a pipeline through companies GOED is working with, and a lot of these projects will come out of university research or medical research and some will come from startups,” Ustad said. “We encourage bioscience companies that have ideas to contact us to see if we can help move them along.”

Greg Bertsch, president and CEO of Antimicrobial Materials, Inc. leads the first team awarded an i6 Challenge grant to commercialize research that is able to “create surfaces that disinfect themselves.” His team will build a conveyor belt to be installed at a meatpacking plant to demonstrate the cost-effectiveness of the invention.

Another component of the grant supports workforce development. It will draw on a USD biomedical engineering program laboratory to help train workers in good manufacturing practices.

“As companies in South Dakota move through clinical trials and go from clinical trials to commercialize and scale up production, they’re going to need the workforce to support that scaling up,” Ustad said. “The same is true for companies that may be looking in South Dakota in this sector. They need qualified employees.”

Here’s a look at all the entities involved in the i6 Challenge project:

University partners

  • University of South Dakota
  • South Dakota School of Mines and Technology
  • South Dakota State University

Economic development organizations:

  • Governor’s Office of Economic Development
  • Sioux Falls Development Foundation
  • Minnehaha County and Lincoln County economic development associations
  • Vermillion Chamber and Development Corporation

Research parks and business incubators:

  • University of South Dakota Discovery District
  • Zeal Center for Entrepreneurship
  • Research Park at South Dakota State University


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