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Kevin DiGregorio: Revitalizing the state’s chemical industry with ChemCeption?

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By Kevin DiGregorio

ChemCeption is a new incubator just launched by the Chemical Alliance Zone.

Located at the West Virginia Regional Technology Park in South Charleston, ChemCeption is the only incubator in the nation focused solely on commercializing chemistry-based technology.

It is an innovation hub for researchers, entrepreneurs, start-ups, and small companies wanting to market innovative technologies or products involving chemistry, from traditional to green, water to plastics, biotechnology to energy, and more.

Although the Chemical Alliance Zone is spearheading the initiative, 10 other strategic partners are key collaborators — TechConnect West Virginia, the Tech Park, Charleston Area Alliance, the Mid-Atlantic Technology, Research & Innovation Center, INNOVA Commercialization Group, West Virginia Small Business Development Center, West Virginia University, Marshall University, the Higher Education Policy Commission, and Robert C. Byrd Institute for Advanced Flexible Manufacturing.

In fact, INNOVA and state’s Small Business Development Center will provide comprehensive entrepreneurial, start-up, and business services to ChemCeption members, and MATRIC will provide technical expertise and support.

Officially launched at the beginning of April, ChemCeption includes three start-up companies from West Virginia, a larger anchor tenant, and an affiliate member that is a start-up headquartered in Florida (EigenChem Technologies Inc.).

The inclusion of an affiliate member demonstrates the uniqueness of ChemCeption — a combination of both rare commercialization facilities at the Tech Park and exceptional commercialization expertise with one of the Chemical Alliance Zone’s strategic partners, MATRIC.

EigenChem is located at the University of Florida’s Sid Martin Biotechnology Incubator, a winner of a number of awards, including the 2013 National Business Incubator Association’s Incubator of the Year.

EigenChem is coming to ChemCeption not to develop technology but to commercialize it. In fact, the tagline for the new incubator is, “Bringing Chemistry-Based Technologies to Market.”

Dr. Alexander Oliferenko, president of EigenChem, said, “If you want to scale-up and commercialize your technology, ChemCeption is the place to do it. They have the facilities and the know-how.”

And we do. But we are not out to use that unique combination to swipe companies from other states or incubators, but instead to assist them.

In fact, our affiliate program, ChemAffiliate, will enable ChemCeption to have not just a local and regional impact, but a national one. But rest assured, ChemCeption will have a local and regional impact as well.

ChemCeption is launching with a mid-sized anchor tenant, Gas Analytical Services, and three local start-ups — Liberty Hydro (specializing in water purification systems for industry), PolyPlexx (offering innovative impact-resistant, clear polymers), and SGA Polymers (developing new, green routes to products from renewable materials).

That is an exciting lineup to build from, and we are in the right place to foster more growth.

The Kanawha Valley is the birthplace of the petrochemical industry, an area where early innovation led to the world’s first ethane cracker and spawned hundreds of pioneering products and technologies. The Tech Park, once owned by Union Carbide Corp. and its successor, The Dow Chemical Co., was once one of the top commercialization centers on the globe.

And West Virginia, in the heart of the Marcellus shale, is in the midst of a rebirth of the petrochemical industry.

What better place than that to house the nation’s first incubator focused solely on commercializing chemistry-based technologies?

But this is not only the right place but also the right time to launch ChemCeption. The Tech Park, after Dow’s donation to the state, is poised for new growth and innovation. A maturing MATRIC is spearheading much of that innovation and is ready to assist new entrepreneurs and start-ups. TechConnectWV, INNOVA, Charleston Area Alliance, the Small Business Development Center, the Robert C. Byrd Institute, and others are leading a new focus on entrepreneurism and innovation across West Virginia.

And the impending rebirth of the petrochemical industry also makes this not just the right place but also the right time.

Chemistry is important. After all, almost every manufactured product — from milk jugs to medical sutures, gasoline to green solar panels, and clothes to cars — requires chemistry.

Innovation and entrepreneurism are important as well.

Both drive the economy, creating jobs, increasing opportunities for our citizens, boosting educational and skill attainment, stimulating sustainable uses of natural resources, and providing community participation and wealth.

So why ChemCeption? Because it has the potential to contribute to all of that and more.

Kevin DiGregorio is executive director of West Virginia’s Chemical Alliance Zone (www.cazwv.com) and director of ChemCeption (www.ChemCeption.com).


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