GENESEO – Undergraduate research at SUNY Geneseo launched Verdimine, a startup chemical company which just signed an exclusive license agreement with the Research Foundation for The State University of New York to employ a proprietary green chemistry process that improves safety and efficiency in manufacturing ‘specialty chemicals’ across many industries.
According to a press release from SUNY Geneseo, the patent on this unique synthetic pathway, invented by Jacqueline Bennett, associate professor of chemistry at SUNY Oneonta, covers a process for making imines, a class of chemical compounds frequently used in pharmaceutical, agrichemical, fine chemical, plastics manufacturing and household product industries.
“We produced more than 300 imines, and I couldn’t have possibly done that alone,” said Bennett. “My team of undergraduate researchers played a crucial role in testing the new process. And working with Dr. Albers and the Verdimine team at Geneseo to bring this important process to the marketplace has been very exciting.”
Conventional methods of imine production require boiling large quantities of toxic solvents for hours to days. Left-over solvent is later disposed of as hazardous waste. Bennett’s process uses a non-toxic, FDA- approved food additive, Ethyl lactate, as the solvent, reduces the time required from hours to a few minutes, requires no agitation or purification and little to no heat. The only by-product of Bennett’s process is water, and it costs pennies on the dollar compared to traditional methods of imine preparation.
Bennett, who was named 2016 Inventor of the Year by the Eastern New York Intellectual Property Law Association for her patent on her new process, said that it is the result of years of research, including projects undertaken in collaboration with SUNY Oneonta undergraduate students.
The Research Foundation obtained the patent for Bennett’s process in July 2014 and connected her with Judy Albers, the VanArsdale Chair in Entrepreneurship at SUNY Geneseo, who teaches entrepreneurial practices, skills and tactics to Geneseo students in her VentureWorks Program. As part of VentureWorks, Dr. Albers’ students seek new technologies for startup business potential.
Earlier this year, as part of Albers’ VentureWorks program, a team of Geneseo students developed a detailed business plan for Verdimine, which earned $5,000 and a second-place finish in the New York State Business Plan competition’s Clean Tech Track. The students who started Verdimine — Christopher Callery, Christian D’Angelo, Fraceska Hasanaj, Austin Lamb and Caroline Wilson — have assumed positions in the company as it continues to grow.
Verdimine is led by CEO Joseph Marasco, a veteran of the fine chemical industry. Eric Helms, Geneseo associate professor of chemistry, is the Chief Technical Officer and Bennett is the Chief Scientific Officer. Research Foundation representatives Steve Wood, assistant director of innovation services, and Tanya Waite, partnership manager, have advised the project since before the company’s formation in May 2017.
“It has been an absolute delight to support this project to grow from laboratory discovery to patented technology to student-driven startup company that has now recruited a serial entrepreneur with significant fundraising and startup experience,” said Heather Hage, vice president, industry and external affairs, at the Research Foundation for SUNY.
Albers, who serves on the Verdimine Board of Advisors, says the startup is now looking for partnerships and customers for the innovative chemical process.
“This is a wonderful example of higher education collaboration in bringing an innovative new product to market, and we think interest in this unique process will be high among industries that use imines,” said Albers. “Our students have worked hard on making this happen, and the support of Dr. Bennett, the Research Foundation for SUNY and many others has been crucial in moving Verdimine forward.”
SUNY Geneseo says that the College produces more than 200 new technologies a year.
“The Research Foundation for SUNY protects the valuable intellectual property generated at SUNY campuses and works with and industry and businesses, like Verdimine, to translate research discoveries into commercial products that benefit society and spur economic development,” said SUNY Geneseo in the press release.