High-tech start up born at UNR now part of Israeli company
A commitment by the University of Nevada, Reno to foster science, technology and entrepreneurship has garnered international attention and an increasingly beneficial partnership with Israel-based HIL Applied Medical.
In 2016, HIL acquired NanoLabz, a high-tech company born at UNR, and hired its cofounder Dr. Jesse Adams, a former UNR professor, to be in charge of HIL North America. Currently, the company is setting up its North American base of operations in Sparks.
Most recently, UNR and HIL entered into an agreement to upgrade and repair the laser at UNR’s Nevada Terawatt Facility (NTF) in Stead, where a chunk of NanoLabz research took place.
In 2009, researchers at NTF recorded the highest energy proton generation from a laser, Adams told the NNBW in a phone interview. That’s what originally caught the attention of HIL.
NanoLabz and HIL had been working in similar avenues of research, developing high-performance, compact systems that use proton technology for research and cancer therapy.
“Proton therapy industry is really booming,” Adams said.
The technology can advance cancer treatment and other therapies by targeting cancer cells with minimal damage to surrounding healthy tissue. But their expensive — $40 million to $100 million each — limits availability for treatments.
“We use high power to focus a laser to intelligently launch a proton off,” Adams explained.
However, in recent years, the NTF laser has been idle.
“The laser was not being used at Stead,” said Ellen Purpus, assistant vice president for enterprise & innovation at UNR, who also helped negotiate the agreements with HIL. “NTF didn’t have the budget for an upgrade to keep current on technology.”
As part of the agreement with HIL, the Israeli company is investing at least $300,000 over the life of the agreement toward re-commissioning and upkeep of the “Cheetah Laser” at NTF.
HIL will be able to use the laser several times a year for its experiments, and during HIL’s off time, UNR staff and students can conduct their own research on the upgraded equipment.
Purpus said work should begin early next year, after prep-work and a plan is established for the upgrades.
The research at NanoLabz which lead to the partnership with HIL “actually grew out of one of the very first companies created to commercialize research (at UNR),” Purpus, said.
“As a Land Grant University, part of the mission at UNR is to facilitate economic development; collaborate with companies to establish in Reno.”
NanoLabz was the first company developed to commercialize the research at UNR.
The second company is Nevada Nano, which uses nano-technology to produce chemical sensors to detect explosives, chemical weapons, and water purity. Adams was also involved in its founding.
“It says a lot about the entrepreneurial spirit (at UNR),” Adams said.
Adams, who is a graduate of Douglas High School in Minden, commended the current and previous administrations at the university for having the vision to be more than academic institutes.
“Now our company is making an investment back into UNR,” he said.
Adams attended UNR as an undergraduate studying mechanical engineering with a minor in business and worked at Bently Enterprises in Minden. Both fostered his interest in applied sciences.
He received a National Science Fellowship, which lead to admission to Stanford University in California where he received a master’s and, in 2001, a doctorate in nano-technology.
UNR offered the newly minted Ph.D. a professorship. To lure him away from opportunities in the Bay Area, the university offered him an incentive and funds to start companies in Northern Nevada.
The acquisition of NanoLabz, is “a stamp of value” for investors, Adams said.
“It’s a great return on their investment, and investment in Nevada,” he said. “We’ve had two (UNR) spinoff companies. One has been acquired (NanoLabz) and one is growing (NevadaNano).”
Since launching its new pediatric products two years ago, Neo Medical has seen a 35% growth in sales; moreover, the company has seen revenue grow 15% year-over-year since relocating to Sparks in late 2012.