For years, researchers at the University of Akron have been studying geckos — not for zoological purposes, but in the hopes of learning how their sticky feet work so they can replicate the effect elsewhere.
Those efforts appear to have paid off. Details are scant, but Akron Ascent Innovations, a company working with the gecko technology to develop new adhesives, has reached a deal to sell its assets.
Akron Ascent was formed in 2012 by University of Akron professor Shing-Chung Josh Wong and University of Akron Research Foundation President Barry Rosenbaum. At the time, the university was beginning to explore biomimicry, which uses technology inspired by nature, and the two met at one of the first National Science Foundation's I-Corps Teams programs.
Since then, the company has gotten headlines in numerous trade publications and about $1.6 million in support from the NSF, Ohio's Third Frontier program and investors. It has been housed at Akron's Bounce Innovation Hub business incubator during most of its life.
Now it appears to have gotten enough attention that a major company is buying its technology.
UARF and Ascent announced July 7 that the company "has entered into an asset purchase agreement with a large, multinational technology company, who will look to further develop the technology platform" developed by Akron Ascent.
They did not disclose the cost of the transaction or the identity of the buyer. The two entities did say that "prior to the acquisition, [Akron Ascent] and the buyer engaged in an approximately year-long strategic joint development program."
Akron Ascent has in the past worked with Velcro Companies on product development, but that relationship goes back at least five years. Rosenbaum said Velcro is not the buyer, but the buyer may or may not continue to work with Velcro.
Ascent has developed what it calls "dry adhesives." Its work was inspired by research at Akron by faculty and staff involved in biomimicry and studying how geckos are able to adhere to a variety of surfaces with their feet and also release from the surfaces at will.
Ascent's website shows it has developed the technology into a product called ShearGrip, which can be used for wall-hanging devices, home and office organization and for photos or labels that can be applied and reapplied without losing their stickiness.
Akron Ascent's dry-adhesive technology was invented by Wong, who along with Rosenbaum and UARF still own the majority of Akron Ascent, along with some angel investors, Rosenbaum and Ball told Crain's.
The buyer insisted that Akron Ascent not disclose the full terms of the deal, but Rosenbaum and Ball said it is purchasing Akron Ascent's assets, including its intellectual property and equipment, but not the company's stock.
Rosenbaum said Akron Ascent will still exist and remain with its present owners, but it has agreed not to compete with the buyer or its application of the technology, Rosenbaum said.
While he would not disclose details, Rosenbaum said the transaction represents a nice financial payoff for him, Wong and UARF.
"It's not a big pile of money, but I like your words — it's a 'meaningful pay day,' and it's significant," Rosenbaum said.
But more important than the money, Rosenbaum said, is that the transaction shows how research at the university — with support from the state, Bounce and other entities — still can bring new technology that produces tangible, manufactured products to market.
"We could not have achieved this milestone without their support," Rosenbaum said. "And I think the fact that the buyer isn't a venture capital firm — they're what you'd call a strategic buyer — is a good thing for the region."