Missouri Innovation clients meet in one of the MU Life Science Business Incubator rooms.

Left to right, alumnus Jesse Kremenak, M.S. '13, Ph.D. '17, discusses business plans with Kremenak NanoTech product manager Matthew Burkhardt and research and development manager Chris Babayco at the MU Life Science Business Incubator. Photo by Abbie Lankitus

Faculty at leading research, land-grant institutions like the University of Missouri juggle many roles. They teach and mentor students, write grants, conduct research, publish their work and engage the public. So what would motivate them to add “entrepreneur” to the list? 

Sheila and David Grant

Biomedical engineers Sheila and David Grant meet in an incubator conference room, a popular shared space for tenants.

Making a larger impact on the world is often what drives academic researchers like Sheila and David Grant to start a business. Their biomedical startup company, G5 Biological Innovations, is helping them bring their advances in soft tissue materials to orthopedic patients.

“Translational research is learning how to take discoveries made in the laboratory and translating them into viable products that can make a difference in the lives of others,” says Sheila Grant, professor of chemical and biomedical engineering and a NextGen Precision Health building investigator. “That is an exciting and powerful thing to do. We knew that our discoveries could help improve patient outcomes.”

Researchers whose work has commercial potential create startup companies for a number of reasons. Not only does it help them bridge the gap between scientific findings and practical solutions, but it allows them to access additional funding from investors, federal agencies and industry partners, and it gives them more flexibility to pursue ideas and approaches that may not be feasible within a traditional higher education setting. 

Incubate and elevate

G5 Biological is one of 17 companies currently located at the MU Life Science Business Incubator in the university’s Research Commons area off Providence Road. The Missouri Innovation Center (MIC) team manages and operates the incubator, which has served more than 200 resident and affiliate clients with early-stage businesses since it opened in December 2008. 

Entrepreneurs who locate their businesses in the incubator can rent a single desk, private office or state-of-the-art web lab. They also can take advantage of mentoring, business counseling, grant writing assistance, educational programming, networking opportunities, shared equipment and other services.

“While Mizzou faculty have great research accomplishments and write impactful academic papers, they might not know how to best translate their ideas into the commercial or consumer space without extra support,” Sheila Grant says. 

MIC team

The Missouri Innovation Center management team stands outside of the Life Science Business Incubator. Left to right are Keith Broadus, facility manager; Sheila Baker, former vice president and chief operations officer; Quinten Messbarger, president and CEO; and Aina Zaresheva, senior office support assistant. Photo by Abbie Lankitus

"Our time at the MU Life Science Business Incubator was essential to our success and our story."

— Katie Thompson, B.S. '04, Ph.D. '11, co-founder and COO, Elemental Enzymes

Funding from the Missouri Technology Corp., a public-private partnership created by the Missouri General Assembly to attract high-tech companies to the state, helps the MIC team support mid-Missouri entrepreneurs. The corporation awarded MIC a two-year, $325,000 grant in February and a $200,000 grant in 2023.

“The grants allow us to continue quality operations at very affordable prices that we couldn’t do otherwise,” says Quinten Messbarger, MIC president and CEO. “And they are allowing us to have appropriate staffing so we can deliver better incubation services to our clients and help more entrepreneurs, including those from the university.”

Faculty from any discipline can tap a rich variety of business-building resources, including those associated with MU’s new $5.5 million Accelerating Research Translation award from the National Science Foundation. Principal investigator Sheila Grant says the award will be used to set up a Technology, Entrepreneurship and Commercialization Hub, providing translational researchers with guidance and a pathway that incorporates MIC services.

G5 Biological Innovations CEO David Grant, who has founded four businesses throughout his career, says his advice for researchers embarking on the commercialization journey is to “take risks, make mistakes, pivot if needed and keep on trying.”

Meet other Tigers at the incubator
Elemental Enzymes founders

Elemental Enzymes founders and MU alumni are, left to right, Brian Thompson, M.S. '08; Katie Thompson, B.S. '04, Ph.D. '11; and Ashley Siegel, Ph.D. '11.  Photo by Bill Greenblatt

Elemental Enzymes 

The company brings cross-disciplinary scientific solutions to complex problems impacting commercial agriculture. Their sustainable products use enzymes, peptides and biochemistries to safely improve plant and soil health, performance and yield. 

Although Elemental Enzymes still maintains a small incubator space to preserve its Mizzou connections, the company's operations and most of its 125 employees are in St. Louis. Messbarger says he considers them a successful graduate of incubator.

"We worked with the MIC to put together business plans and enter business competitions, and we collaborated with students," says Katie Thompson, company COO. "The staff helped us prepare and present to the local angel investment group. We also were able to connect with researchers and resources to bring our products forward, which we would not have been able to do on our own."

Jesse Kremenak in the lab

Kremenak, a physicist, uses labs, an office and co-working areas at the incubator. Photo by Abbie Lankitus

Kremenak NanoTech

This early-stage startup company is developing a cutting-edge cold pasteurizer system for the beverage production industry.

Kremenak says he felt fortunate to find the right kind of laboratory space in the incubator when he founded his company. 

"At the time, other comparable laboratory spaces across the country had prohibitively long wait lists and high rent," he says. "MIC's mentorship services have been instrumental in helping us with business planning and securing critical investment capital."


Teresa Lever

Serial inventor Teresa Lever is passionate about improving the quality of life for people and animals with dysphagia, or difficulty swallowing, a symptom of many medical conditions. Photo by Abbie Lankitus

Aerodigestive Health Corp.

The company's mission is to advance aerodigestive health for humans and animals through game-changing innovations.

Clinician-scientist Teresa Lever, an associate professor of otolaryngology, is developing tools to objectively diagnose and treat swallowing impairments associated with neurological diseases, cancer, genetic disorders and aging. Renting space at the incubator gives Aerodigestive Health a professional image and allows her to leverage the resources, expertise and networks of the MIC staff and other companies in residence there.

"A startup can have a minimalist footprint at the incubator to start that was our approach while still taking advantage of business mentorship and networking opportunities," Lever says. "You can always upgrade or expand later as your company grows."


Bill Buttlar

Bill Buttlar, a civil and environmental engineering professor, uses incubator space to house his company's data servers, hold board meetings and meet with customers. Photo courtesy of the College of Engineering

Tiger Eye Engineering

This AI-based software development company is focused on automated pavement inspection and generalized asset detection and characterization. 

Bill Buttlar, Glen Barton Chair in Flexible Pavements, says his company's aim is to make the job of road owners and managers less daunting by providing them with highly accurate data presented on visualization dashboards.

He says MIC adds value to its space by providing access to experts in grant proposal writing, NSF Innovation Corps (I-Corps) entrepreneurial training and Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) programs..

"Programs such as I-Corps help entrepreneurs to clearly identify value propositions, customers and products so that an effective business model can be developed," Buttlar says.