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Two CALS faculty honored as entrepreneurs, innovators

Two College of Agriculture and Life Sciences faculty members, Dr. John Cavanagh and Dr. Josip Simunovic, were among N.C. State University faculty members honored by the university Office of Technology Transfer for innovation and entrepreneurship for 2012.

Cavanagh, William Neal Reynolds Distinguished Professor of Biochemistry, shared the 2012 Entrepreneur of the Year award, while Simunovic, research associate professor in the Department of Food, Bioprocessing and Nutrition Sciences, shared the Innovator of the Year award.

Simunovic and Dr. Jere Confrey, Joseph D. Moore Distinguished Professor of Mathematics Education, shared the Innovator of the Year award, while Cavanagh, Dr. Christian Melander and Dr. Mary Tschirhart were named Entrepreneurs of the Year. Melander is an associate professor in the Department of Chemistry, while Tschirhart is director of the Institute for Nonprofits and a Professor of Public Administration.

Simunovic, who serves as assistant director of the NC State University site of the Center for Advanced Processing and Packaging Studies, has received national and international recognition for his research on advanced thermal processing of foods.

His research with continuous flow microwave heating technology led to the first commercial implementation of a continuous flow microwave sterilization process to produce shelf-stable low-acid foods.

Continuous flow microwave processing technology differs from other processing technologies in that it heats the material being processed more quickly and more uniformly. Other technologies tend to overheat the food being processed in order to reach required processing temperatures in the coldest part of the food. Continuous-flow microwave technology produces foods that are shelf stable and need not be refrigerated. Much of the character of the food – the flavor, color and aroma – is also retained.

In 2008, a company called Yamco opened a plant in Snow Hill, N.C. that produces sweet potato puree using the technology.  In August, a second company that is using the technology opened a food processing plant in Troy, N.C.

Cavanagh is an expert in protein structural biology, particularly in how bacteria are able to protect themselves. He and Melander, whose research focuses on defining small molecules that control bacterial behavior and small molecule-coated nanoparticles that have antibacterial and antiviral properties, are co-founders of Agile Sciences, an NC State startup company located on Centennial Campus.

Agile Sciences has received more than $2.5 million in funding from the U.S. Department of Defense Small Business Innovation Research/Small Business Technology Transfer program over the last two years.

Cavanagh and Melander developed compounds that can disperse colonies of bacteria called biofilms. Biofilms that form in the human body are up to 10,000 times more resistant to antibiotics and the immune system than free-floating bacteria, making them difficult to treat medically. In agriculture, every year billions of dollars of crops are lost due to the formation of biofilms. Industrial needs for effective biofilm dispersion include surface coatings and cleansing products.

The NC State Entrepreneur and Innovator of the Year awards were established to recognize members of the NC State community who work to promote the commercialization of university intellectual property, train future leaders, and serve as champions of the university’s culture of innovation and entrepreneurship. NC State’s Office of Technology Transfer oversees the awards program.

“These outstanding researchers and innovators represent the entrepreneurial spirit that permeates throughout NC State,” said Chancellor Randy Woodson. “Not only are they conducting terrific science, but they are turning their results into products, services and even companies that benefit the citizens of North Carolina, the U.S and the world.”

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