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Von Liebig Center Awards $1M To Enhance Commercial Potential of Faculty Discoveries

Courses Spark Entrepreneurial Spirit among Students
The von Liebig Center's five-course series on entrepreneurism has become a hot commodity among Jacobs School students. Designed to teach students how to be successful innovators in entrepreneurial companies, the master’s-level courses have already led to one start-up company and an active collaboration with a new student organization called VentureForth. Courses Spark Entrepreneurial Spirit among Students

It’s been just two years since the Jacobs School launched the William J. von Liebig Center for Entrepreneurism and Technology Advancement, and since then, the Center has provided advisory services to 70 faculty, and has awarded nearly $1 million in gap funding to 19 faculty inventors. The Center has also launched a series of five graduate-level courses on entrepreneurism and in August 2003 moved into its new 6,000 square foot headquarters in the Powell-Focht Bioengineering Hall.

"We have had a tremendous response from the students and faculty, and I think it is safe to say that the von Liebig Center is now woven into the fabric of the Jacobs School," says Rick LeFaivre, executive director.

Computer Modeling for Medicine and Surgery
"The financial support of the von Liebig Center and the equally valuable advice on business development issues is making the difference between a successful new venture and new jobs for our graduates versus just another good idea that didn’t quite make it," says bioengineering professor Andrew McCulloch, one of the first Jacobs School faculty members to work with the von Liebig Center. Hundreds of academic centers worldwide are using McCulloch’s biomedical software tool "Continuity" to research medical problems. Continuity provides a framework for integrating diverse biological data (from cellular signaling to 3-D medical images) into one predictive model of an organ or system.


The von Liebig Center's new facility includes fully-equipped conference space and nine workrooms for inventors.
The software has broad potential for drug discovery, analysis of medical devices, and for diagnostic imaging and surgical planning in patient care. San Diego-based Insilicomed, Inc. has already licensed Continuity to help customers in the medical device industry develop therapeutic strategies for heart disease. Now, with $50,000 in gap funding from the von Liebig Center, McCulloch is working with a software engineer to convert Continuity to a package suitable for commercialization and sale.

Video-Conferencing on Cell Phones
In another project targeted for commercialization, Electrical and Computer Engineering professor Truong Nguyen has developed coder-decoder technology to enable real-time, high-quality video conferencing over a narrow bandwidth to pocket PCs and cell phones. The frequency-targeting CODEC has performed several times faster than existing pixel-based MPEG-4 CODECs. Through von Liebig Center funding, Nguyen has optimized the code and demonstrated that video captured with a micro camera and fed through a Wi-Fi (802.11) transceiver to a Pocket PC produces a smooth, live video feed.

“This is exciting technology that we predict will have a strong appeal to the youth market," says von Liebig Center technology advisor Tim Rueth. “We see this as software that could be sold directly to manufacturers of cell phones and PDAs and eventually embedded into a chip."

Active Noise Control of Cooling Fans Rueth is one of the von Liebig Center's nine technology advisors and staff, each of whom has many years’ experience in helping companies commercialize technologies and in raising or investing venture capital. That experience is proving valuable for Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering professor Raymond de Callafon. The control engineer has created a system to cancel sound with controlled emission of a secondary opposite (out-of-phase) sound signal. Originally, de Callafon was developing the technology to manage noise from air ventilation systems. But following the suggestion of a team of external reviewers, the von Liebig Center technical advisors conducted market research that showed the technology could have even broader appeal for canceling noise from cooling fans inside projectors and computer servers.

De Callafon is now using von Liebig Center gap funds to demonstrate his noise control system on various commercial projectors and servers. In early demonstrations, the system reduced projector fan noise to the point that it is barely audible. The invention is being targeted as a non-exclusive license to manufacturers.

Overcoming Information Overload
Another goal of the von Liebig Center is to partner with technology advancement programs across the UCSD campus, including UCSD CONNECT. Computer Science and Engineering professor Charles Elkan recently benefited from this partnership, when his technology advisor Mary Zoeller worked with CONNECT to bring experts on campus to provide practical business insights on difficulties and issues related to commercializing software.


Dean Frieder Seible (left) with Mrs. Suzanne von Liebig and Alfredo Molina at dedication of new von Liebig Center facility. The Center was made possible through a $10 million gift from the William J. von Liebig Foundation.
Elkan is developing a tool to measure the quality of messages and documents automatically, and other software to enable a web server to give faster responses to high-priority users. The first software uses artificial intelligence based on examples to automatically assess documents in milliseconds, and developers say the technology “scales easily to millions of documents and millions of users.” Elkan is using von Liebig funding to help commercialize the first application based on the technology – to financial message boards. Elkan, an expert in data mining, expects that the software will benefit major service providers, such as MSN, AOL, and Yahoo.

The von Liebig Center is currently conducting its fourth request for proposals from UCSD faculty inventors, and expects that at least four of the first original projects funded by the Center will soon result in UCSD spin-out companies, while four others may lead to IP licensing by existing companies.