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  • Lou Killeffer

Where Innovators Thrive

Yesterday two colleagues and I joined a very informative meeting with Trude Amick, Peter Liao, Chance Rainwater, and Mireya McKee at the University of North Carolina’s Office of Technology Commercialization here in Chapel Hill. Trude and her team accelerate the translation of exciting, emerging ideas into meaningful products and services “for the benefit of North Carolina, the world, and the University”.

And I think it’s fair to say they’re on top of their game, and indeed, have been recognized as such, as Carolina was recently ranked by Reuters as the 6th Most Innovative University in the World. No doubt such rankings take more into account than commercial impact but as one yardstick it says volumes about the current talent, focus, and culture at Carolina.

Beyond the continuing development of impressive ideas in health care, chemistry, and the physical and data sciences, we reviewed several outstanding startups. Here are just three of the most remarkable:

Located in the Research Triangle Park, Premirr Plastics, founded by Matthew Parrott and Mark McCreery, uses a patented disruptive cleantech process to convert plastic waste into new plastic products: “Making Old Plastic New Again”.

Using a combination of proprietary chemistry and equipment, Premirr chemically breakdowns PET (polyethylene terephthalate) the most ubiquitous plastic packaging of everyday consumer products, particularly water and soda bottles and various foods. And as everyone knows, when discarded this plastic waste, which can last for thousands of years, has polluted our landfills and oceans - contaminating virtually every corner of the globe.

Unlike traditional recycling that merely melt the plastic into pellets, Premirr’s system allows for PET to be recycled an unlimited amount of times into a (re)usable starting material for new PET products.A technology break through that when employed would work perpetually on all PET material!

Shellfishly motivated”, the Sandbar Oyster Company, based in Morehead City and founded by Niels Lindquist, has developed a new, biodegradable material – Oyster Catcher™ – that promotes oyster growth while restoring and creating healthy estuarine habitats. Sandbar brings sustainable innovation to oyster aquaculture through its Oyster Catcher™ and the critical know-how to produce seed oysters in quantity from the natural spawning of wild oysters. 

The offspring of these genetically diverse parents possess favorable traits for growth and survival across a range of environmental conditions. And forms of the Oyster Catcher™ optimized for spat collection work well in hatcheries and other natural environments as a biodegradable oyster shell substitute.

“Good food in a bowl”, GoodBowls, founded by Alice Ammerman and Laura Fieselmanproduces healthy, frozen meals that expand lower-income consumer access to nutritional food while increasing opportunity for local farmers and food entrepreneurs. Their unique, mission-driven business model reduces food waste, increases accessibility to healthy meals, and benefits the farmers whose crops are key to what’s good in the bowls.  And pricing Good Bowls higher at more affluent retailers allows the company to sell their product at food-stamp-accessible prices in the convenience stores and corner shops found across lower-income food deserts. A uniquely delicious and community driven win, win, win.


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