By Stephanie Kalina-Metzger
Tim Hurley doesn’t shy away from sticky situations. After starting out as a mentor to the spotLESS Materials team, he took on the role of Vice President of Business Development in November, 2022. In bringing Hurley on board, the company’s goal is to attract more customers in the both residential and commercial markets on a global scale.
Under Hurley’s leadership, the company is launching its anti-fouling coating, initially developed for a sewer-less, waterless toilet for the developing world. “Human waste is extremely sticky and up until the invention of spotLESS, nothing was able to repel it,” according to co-founder and CEO Birgitt Boschitsch.
Happy Valley Industry sat down with Hurley to learn more.
Our coating innovation is a true platform technology in that the core elements can be applied to solve problems across multiple applications and industries. spotLESS coatings are designed to prevent fouling caused by liquid, sludge-like materials, bacteria, mineral deposits and more. We are able to solve problems associated with surface fouling with a fast and simple method for applying our repellent coatings.
I started my engineering career at Zetachron, Inc., a local drug delivery development startup founded by Penn State professors Alec Keith and Wally Snipes. I was looking to return to State College. It so happened that Zetachron was looking to hire a process engineer, so it worked out well. I felt that eventually I would move into business operations/management so the startup environment was a great fit for me as it provided exposure to other aspects of the company (e.g., patents/intellectual property, business development and contracts, etc.).
The key elements I look for are: a solution to a real-world problem, access to capital and resources to grow, and the quality of the team.
It’s really the opportunity to do something new and provide a solution to a problem that can make an impact and create value. Helping to bring all the pieces together to develop a new business is exciting and rewarding. The key elements I look for are: a solution to a real-world problem, access to capital and resources to grow, and the quality of the team.
I met co-founder Tak-Sing and CEO Birgitt shortly after joining Penn State’s tech transfer office in 2017. Tak-Sing asked me to serve as an industry mentor on an award from the National Science Foundation. The NSF I-Corps course is an intensive customer discovery program which requires a team of three (entrepreneurial lead/Birgitt, technical lead/Tak-Sing, industry mentor/me) to conduct 100 customer interviews over a seven-week timeframe. The goal of the program is to determine if the underlying technology has potential to solve a meaningful market/industry problem. I was quite impressed with the energy and commercial focus from both Birgitt and Tak-Sing and felt they would be successful in getting a startup up and running.
Over my 30+ year career, I’ve been a principal in six startups, five of which had an option, or license, to Penn State technology and were started from scratch. In my role with spotLESS, I am using that experience to help the company navigate issues related to intellectual property, business development and contract (e.g., licensing) construction/negotiation, project management, grant proposals, fundraising and whatever else is necessary.
Our short-term focus is to establish product development collaborations with global partners that lead to either a licensing, or supply agreement.
Our short-term focus is to establish product development collaborations with global partners that lead to either a licensing, or supply agreement. This process typically starts with a proof-of-concept project to establish feasibility followed by larger scale product/process development. We have several active programs and even more at the discussion stage.
Longer term we would like to create a commercial-scale production capability, preferably in the Centre region. This will depend upon the needs and capabilities of our partners, but we believe there is a manufacturing opportunity to support our business-to-business efforts.
Most of the partnering opportunities come to us–because of our connections to Penn State and Tak-Sing’s previously published research, there is a fair bit of awareness out there, so the future looks bright as Penn State continues to make progress when it comes to supporting new innovations.
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