The University of Maryland will launch a new business development arm to nurture quantum-focused startups, President Darryll J. Pines announced last night at an event honoring the institution’s inventions, startup, mentor and student entrepreneurs of the year.

The Quantum Startup Foundry will support new businesses in the quantum technology field, which Pines said stands “poised to disrupt everything from cybersecurity and energy, to medical discoveries and the financial field.” It will be created through an initial $25 million investment from the university’s newly established Discovery Fund, with key funding from the state of Maryland.

Backed by a $10 million capital investment in quantum facilities and supported by UMD’s status as one of the world’s leading centers of quantum science research, the Quantum Startup Foundry will help cement UMD’s and the region’s position as “the Capital of Quantum,” featuring the Mid-Atlantic Quantum Alliance of universities, firms and government labs, Pines said.

UMD Chief Innovation Officer Julie Lenzer will lead the new startup incubator as it works to enable quantum breakthroughs by connecting top quantum researchers with business mentors and infrastructure needed to catalyze startups and create groundbreaking products.

In an interview, Lenzer said that UMD has for years enjoyed a brisk rate of faculty and student inventiveness, but Pines’ vision of vigorously expanding research across the board—not just in science and engineering programs like those that support quantum research, but in humanities, the arts, journalism and more—will accelerate it further.

“When you work to expand research, there’s a payoff,” she said. “We’re going to get more out of it in terms of innovation than ever before.”

Pines also announced the winners of a slate of innovation and entrepreneurial awards at the virtual 2021 Innovate Maryland event, which he made one the centerpieces of his inauguration week festivities.

Inventions are selected by a panel of UMD personnel and industry experts and overseen by UM Ventures; Startup of the Year was selected by professionals and organizations working with university startups, and overseen by the Dingman Center for Entrepreneurship, UM Ventures and Mtech; and Rudy Awards by the Dingman Center honor its founder, Rudy Lamone.

Across the board, Lenzer said, this year’s winners were chosen not just for the cool factor or sheer profit potential, but for their likelihood to change society and improve our lives. 

Overall and Physical Science Invention of the Year: Reversible Chemistry in Graphite Cathode for Safe, High Energy Batteries
This technology opens the door to better-performing electric cars and wearable technologies, among other energy storage needs. It has both high-energy density and efficiency and a fully aqueous design that—because it contains a “water-in-salt” electrolyte—is much safer, even as it outperforms most non-aqueous lithium batteries on the market.

Pines related an anecdote about introducing Professor Chunsheng Wang, who led the research for the new battery technology, to entrepreneur Greg Cooper Ph.D. ’00, which opened the door to commercial development. “This all goes to show the power of a strong, connected entrepreneurial ecosystem like the one we have gathered here tonight,” Pines said.

Invention team:

  • Chunsheng Wang, Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry
  • Chongyin Yang, Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering

Information Sciences Invention of the Year: Cyber Aptitude and Talent Assessment
The Cyber Aptitude and Test Assessment (CATA) enhances online security by helping organizations identify the best candidates for cybersecurity jobs and tailor the training to the individuals they hire. The assessment is a set of cognitive tests using proprietary algorithms to provide a multidimensional assessment of an individual’s aptitude and a prediction of their ability to perform different cyber jobs. CATA is designed both to find people who have the cognitive skills to succeed in cyber and to steer people toward the type of cyber careers that fit them. 

Invention team:

  • Susan G. Campbell, Applied Research Laboratory for Intelligence and Security (ARLIS)
  • Jarrett Lee, ARLIS
  • Adam Liter, Department of Linguistics
  • J. Isaiah Harbison, ARLIS
  • Alexa Romberg, Truth Initiative, Schroeder Institute
  • Meredith Hughes, ARLIS
  • Valerie Karuzis, ARLIS
  • Polly O’Rourke, ARLIS
  • Michael F. Bunting, ARLIS
  • Gregory Colflesh, ARLIS
  • Lelyn Saner, ARLIS
  • John Romano, ARLIS
  • Sunhee Kim, Maryland Language Science Center
  • Victoria Chang, ARLIS
  • Arlo Sumer, ARLIS
  • Alison Tseng, ARLIS
  • Jessica Young
  • Amber Bloomfield, University of Maryland Office of Institutional Research, Planning and Assessment
  • William Burns
  • Nicholas Pandza, ARLIS
  • Scott Jackson, ARLIS

Life Sciences Invention of the Year: A New CRISPR Editing Strategy for Plant Genomes
Plant genome editing promises hardier, more abundant crops to feed a hungry world. Now, researchers at the University of Maryland have screened new Cas12a proteins originated from different bacteria and discovered one Cas12a system showing broader target range, high target editing efficiency, low-temperature tolerance and high target specificity. 

Invention team:

  • Yiping Qi, Department of Plant Science and Landscape Architecture
  • Yingxiao Zhang, Department of Plant Science and Landscape Architecture

Startup of the Year: N5 Sensors, Rockville, Md.
Multigas sensors that safeguard people and facilities in industry, government and national security applications used to be bulky affairs. N5 Sensors, a UMD spinoff founded in 2012 by Abhishek Motayed, then an assistant research scientist in UMD’s Institute for Research in Electronics and Applied Physics, makes advanced gas and chemical sensors small enough to be wearable on a firefighter’s coat. The fingertip-size devices also detect many more gases and are more sensitive than traditional detectors. A 2011 UMD Invention of the Year awardee, Motayed’s budding technology took flight after he participated in an I-Corps cohort and received $300,000 from the Maryland Momentum Fund.

Rudy Award for Mentor of the Year: Maurice Boissiere ‘89
An experienced shepherd of startups, the electrical and computer engineering alum today is combining his technical chops with a passion for entrepreneurship by serving on the advisory boards of the Dingman Center for Entrepreneurship at the Robert H. Smith School if Business and UM Ventures' Maryland Momentum Fund, as well as teaching entrepreneurship as lecturer at the Robert H. Smith School of Business.

Rudy Award for Student Entrepreneur of the Year (tie): Josh Ermias ‘21
As co-founder of Door Robotics, the kinesiology and computer science major is revolutionizing remote, airborne photography with its Vista drone, which captures 360-degree video in 8K resolution. The company, which participated in the virtual Terp Startup summer accelerator in 2020, envisions drones as platforms for delivery, interaction and even home entertainment.

Rudy Award for Student Entrepreneur of the Year (tie): Caroline Ta ‘21
The marketing major grew up baking but dove in during college as a way to destress. She honed her business approach last year in the Terp Startup summer accelerator and now sells ornate yet affordable cakes, colorful macarons and “Oreo hot cocoa bombs” that dissolve in hot water or milk—all gluten free—from her website.

This story first appeared in Maryland Today.