In Honor of Black History Month: MIPS and Minority Entrepreneurs

By Martha Connolly, Director, MIPS

Mtech’s Maryland Industrial Partnerships (MIPS) program is working to fuel the innovation economy in Maryland. During February, Black History Month, we want to highlight MIPS projects with minority-owned firms developing innovative products.

Darryl L. Carter, M.D., of Nora Therapeutics (www.noratherapeutics.com), worked with faculty at both UMB and UMD to develop manufacturing and purification protocols for Nora’s patent-pending therapy for recurrent miscarriages and repeated in vitro fertilization failures. Nora Therapeutics is an early stage specialty biopharmaceuticals company focusing on commercializing therapeutics to address issues in reproductive health. Nora’s lead therapeutic candidates are FDA-approved products repurposed to improve the likelihood for term pregnancy in women suffering from repeated, assisted, reproductive failure (i.e., in vitro fertilization or IVF) and recurrent miscarriage.  Prior to founding Nora, Dr. Carter was a member of the faculty in Pathology and Laboratory Medicine as well as an attending physician in Diagnostic Immunology at The Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and The Johns Hopkins Hospital, where he specialized in diseases of the immune system. Nora recently garnered an investment from Burrill and Company.

Epitaxial Technologies (www.epiwafers.com) worked with a member of the physics department at UMBC to develop and characterize epitaxial materials. Dr. Olaleye Aina, an immigrant from Africa, founded the company in 1996, along with a group of recognized experts in sensor production. Epitaxial Technologies manufactures photoreceivers, discrete photodetectors and infrared and RF sensors for the wireless and optoelectronic industries. Dr. Aina credits his early MIPS project with providing the critical proof of concept that allowed the company to survive and thrive and produce products with lower size, weight and power and at a lower cost than were currently available. The company has 9-10 employees and is still located in the research park at UMBC.

Dr. Eddy AgboFyodor (www.fyodorbio.com) is developing artemisinin combination therapies (ACTs), the treatment of choice for malaria. Using MIPS funding, the company worked with Dr. Ganesh Sriram, an assistant professor of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at UMD to develop and optimizing a yeast-based platform to reliably produce the drug artemisinin, a therapeutic effective against malaria and other diseases. Dr. Eddy Agbo founded the company to enable the reliable production of artemisinin (which is currently inefficiently extracted from a plant) to ensure a supply to meet global needs. Dr. Agbo was a Research Fellow at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, where he worked on diagnostic and therapeutic biomarker discovery. He has over 15 years of biomedical research and direct product development experience in university and industry settings, and is the lead inventor on pending genotyping and diagnostic biomarker patents, and author of numerous scientific publications. The company is a start-up in the UMBiopark in Baltimore.  Dr. Agbo, who is Nigerian by birth, has focused on Nigeria as a primary target market for the company’s products. The company is building a biotechnology center there to advance its product development and sales.

Dr. Carol Espy-Wilson founded OmniSpeech in 2010.  A professor of electrical and computing engineering at UMD, Dr. Espy-Wilson became an entrepreneur when she developed revolutionary algorithms to solve a major problem — background noise in cell phone conversations — with cost-effective software. Omnispeech was founded as a company developing speech extraction technology for cellular and other communications. The company joined Mtech’s VentureAccelerator program (www.va.umd.edu); they subsequently won a MIPS award to work with Dr. Shihab Shamma, a professor of electrical and computer engineering at UMD to improve the performance of software that separates speech from background noise for clear cellular and other communications.  In May 2010, OmniSpeech won $25,000 in the University of Maryland $75K Business Plan Competition and topped that win off with an additional $15,000 as the winner of the Warren Citrin Social Impact Award. The company was cited as having “an easy-to-describe problem and an elegant solution that is very low cost.”

Dr. Jayfus T. DoswellJuxtopia (www.juxtopia.com) is a biomedical and information technology (BIO-IT) company developing simulation technologies for biotechnology processes and medical procedures to enhance human performance products. Dr. Jayfus T. Doswell is the founder, president, and chief executive officer of Juxtopia LLC. He is a multidisciplinary engineer and entrepreneur with experience in information technology development and business leadership. Prior to starting the company in 2002, Dr. Doswell led several commercial software engineering teams, advised businesses on improving their processes with innovative technology, and helped grow start-up companies ranging from information technology to biotechnology companies. Juxtopia worked under the MIPS program to develop an auditory-based speech enhancement scheme. Dr. Doswell regularly mentors African-American entrepreneurs with product-based businesses. The Economic Alliance of Greater Baltimore recently called Dr. Doswell one of the “rock stars who make things happen,” while the Baltimore Sun cited him as a city technology leader and modern-day Renaissance man.

MIPS’ African-Americans Behind the Scenes

Dr. Darryll PinesDr. Darryll Pines, Dean of the Clark School of Engineering (www.eng.umd.edu) knows and supports MIPS. Dr. Pines has made important contributions to the success of MIPS as part of Mtech. As an aerospace professor, Dr. Pines also was a principal investigator on a project with Navmar/NEANY involving the design and testing of unmanned autonomous vehicles.  

Cherrie Hughes is the newest member of the MIPS staff, and we’re delighted to have her on our team. Cherrie is a project manager, and also works on financial processes and reporting for MIPS. She is also the project manager on the upcoming MIPS 25th anniversary celebration.

MIPS is addressing some of the most critical problems in today’s complex world, and African—Americans are playing a leading role in this innovation. The MIPS projects we’re funding all have the potential to lead to new products, create jobs, and enhance Maryland’s future, today and beyond. Check on our progress to see which of these projects will change Maryland for the better. The results: better products, more jobs, and a better economy in Maryland.

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