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Beer, Handa chosen as first Innovation Fellows

Innovation Fellows Hitesh Handa and Jenay Beer in Handa's Lab and with Beer's robot. (Photo by Dorothy Kozlowski)

Faculty members Jenay Beer and Hitesh Handa have been selected as UGA’s inaugural Innovation Fellows for fall 2019. Throughout the semester, the pair will receive a crash course in technology commercialization and learn how they can shape their research programs to more effectively align with industry priorities and, ultimately, serve the public’s needs.

Announced by President Jere W. Morehead in his 2019 State of the University Address, the Innovation Fellows program is intended not only to help faculty commercialize their own research but also introduce them to UGA’s broader Innovation District initiative. After their fellowships end, participants will be encouraged to serve as informal “innovation ambassadors” in their home departments.

“The Innovation Fellows program is designed to help our talented faculty translate their bright ideas into solutions and products that will improve lives and communities around the world,” said Morehead. “My congratulations to Dr. Beer and Dr. Handa on receiving the inaugural fellowship. I look forward to all that they will accomplish through this exciting program.”

Photo of assistant professor Jenay Beer

Assistant professor Jenay Beer sits next to an interactive companion robot. (Photo by Peter Frey/UGA)

Beer is an assistant professor in the Institute of Gerontology, with a joint appointment in the College of Public Health and the School of Social Work. She designs assistive technologies for older adults that can help them manage life and health transitions as they age. Such technologies could include assistive robots, personal monitoring or communication systems, or other innovations.

“I am so grateful for being selected as an UGA Innovation Fellow—this is an amazing opportunity,” Beer said. “The skills I will learn from this program will transform my research from formative investigations to full-scale commercial health interventions to improve the lives of older adults with dementia and their caregivers. Dementia caregiving is in need of a disruption. UGA is providing the tools and training so researchers, such as myself, can play a role in creating such disruptive innovative solutions.”

Photo of Hitesh Handa in his lab.

Hitesh Handa in his lab. (Photo by Dorothy Kozlowski)

Handa, assistant professor in the School of Chemical, Materials and Biomedical Engineering, focuses on developing new biocompatible coating materials for medical implant applications. The recipient of an Early Career Scholar Award at UGA’s 2019 Research Awards, Handa and his research group have generated 12 patent disclosures in a three-year period, and in 2018 he founded his own startup, inNOveta Biomedical LLC.

“My lab in the College of Engineering is committed to developing nitric oxide-based hemocompatible and antimicrobial coatings for medical device applications through highly interdisciplinary research,” Handa said. “The Innovation Fellows program will immensely help me in advancing my efforts to commercialize our technology and increase our chances to partner with leading medical device companies in the country.”

Ian Biggs, senior associate director of Innovation Gateway, said the Innovation Fellows experience will help Beer, Handa and future participants create roadmaps for their personal industry interactions. Each participant receives up to $10,000 to support customer discovery and facilitate connections with industry partners. After an initial weeklong immersion in Gateway’s innovation curriculum, the fellows will commit eight hours per week to the program for the rest of the semester.

“We’ll teach them how industry thinks, what’s important to industry, what words they should use when talking to industry,” Biggs said. “We’ll help them work out the commercial value of what they do. If they can figure out what industry values and then lead their conversations with that, that will significantly improve their chances of bringing their innovations to market.”

The Innovation Fellows program will accept applications for spring 2020 until Nov. 1. For more information or to apply, visit the Innovation Gateway website.