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WNY start-ups get no-strings-attached cash from University at Buffalo

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About 75 percent (18 out of 24) of start-up companies that applied for grants from the University at Buffalo received some money under its Center for Advanced Biomedical and Bioengineering Technology program.

In an effort to translate local ideas into successful businesses, 18 western New York startup companies recently received grants from the University at Buffalo's Center for Advanced Biomedical and Bioengineering Technology. The catch? There isn't one - there are pretty much no strings attached to the money.

One such company is Medical Acoustics, which manufactures a device called the lung flute. No, it doesn’t play music. Instead, it helps treat chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPB, which afflicts 14 million Americans.

“Health care is a huge public expense, anyway you measure it. There are four chronic diseases that consume 60 percent of the Medicare budget. And COPD is one of those four. Our device has great potential for helping to reduce the cost of managing chronic disease,” said Frank Codella, president of Medical Acoustics.

The lung flute is a local product built from local ideas by a local private business. And now to improve the lung flute's commercial viability, Medical Acoustics is will receive an infusion of $75,000 in public funds, channeled through the University at Buffalo’s Center for Advanced Technology (UB CAT).

Marnie LaVigne is director of business development at UB CAT. She says companies promise to create specific numbers of jobs and amounts of revenue when they apply for the money, but they’re not required to pay it back if those numbers don’t come through.

“We very closely monitor exactly how every dollar is spent. [The grantees] very much have to follow through on what they said they’re going do. And certainly the goal is to move the needle and get this product closer to the marketplace,” LaVigne said.

More than half of the 18 companies receiving the grants were spawned from research at UB. Each company is required to match each grant dollar with $2 of its own.

“We’re certainly doing our share. This product was developed by sort of a garage operation. In the sense that there was an inventor and myself and a few business guys that put own money at risk,” Codella said. “I think it’s a very good use of public funds in terms of a payoff for everyone involved.”

The awards were actually announced in July. But in the time between now and then, some companies’ financial situations have changed, to the extent that they can no longer match (and therefore collect) their UB CAT award.

“What we want to avoid is a number of technologies sitting on the shelf and not actually going anywhere because they don’t have the dollars like the CAT to get off the shelf,” LaVigne said.

WBFO/Western New York reporter for the Innovation Trail.