Company Licenses Oneonta Faculty Member’s Invention

Jacqueline Bennett making imines in the chemistry lab using her patented process

A green chemistry process invented by a SUNY Oneonta faculty member is one step closer to changing the way products ranging from chemotherapy drugs to inorganic LEDs are made.

The Geneseo-based startup company Verdimine has signed an exclusive license agreement with the Research Foundation for the State University of New York to employ a chemistry process invented by SUNY Oneonta Associate Professor of Chemistry Jacqueline Bennett.

In 2014, Bennett patented a process for making imines, a class of chemical compounds frequently used in the pharmaceutical, agrichemical, fine chemical, plastics manufacturing and household product industries. Conventional methods of imine production require boiling large quantities of toxic solvents for hours to days, and leftover solvent is later disposed of as hazardous waste. Bennett’s process uses a non-toxic, FDA-approved food additive, ethyl lactate, as the solvent; reduces production time to minutes; and requires no agitation or purification, and little to no heat. It also costs much less than traditional methods of imine preparation, and its only byproduct is water.

Bennett invented the new process after years of research, including projects undertaken in collaboration with SUNY Oneonta students in her research group, BLONDES (Building a Legacy of Outstanding New Developments and Excellence in Science).

“We produced more than 300 imines, and I couldn’t have possibly done that alone,” said Bennett, who was named Inventor of the Year by the Eastern New York Intellectual Property Law Association in 2016. “My team of undergraduate researchers played a crucial role in testing the new process. And working with Dr. Albers and the Verdimine team at Geneseo to bring this important process to the marketplace has been very exciting.”

The Research Foundation obtained the patent for Bennett’s process in July 2014 and connected her with Judy Albers, the VanArsdale Chair in Entrepreneurship at SUNY Geneseo, who teaches entrepreneurial practices, skills and tactics to students in her VentureWorks Program. As part of VentureWorks, Albers’ students seek new technologies for startup business potential.

Last year, a team of Geneseo students developed a detailed business plan for Verdimine, which earned $5,000 and a second-place finish in the New York State Business Plan competition’s Clean Tech Track.

Verdimine is led by CEO Joseph Marasco, a veteran of the fine chemical industry. Eric Helms, Geneseo associate professor of chemistry, is the Chief Technical Officer and Bennett is the Chief Scientific Officer. In that role, Bennett is working to figure out how her process could be scaled up for use in manufacturing things like cholesterol-lowering drugs, rust inhibitors and inorganic LEDs.

Research Foundation representatives Steve Wood, assistant director of innovation services, and Tanya Waite, partnership manager, have advised the project since before the company’s formation in May 2017.

“It has been an absolute delight to support this project to grow from laboratory discovery to patented technology to student-driven startup company that has now recruited a serial entrepreneur with significant fundraising and startup experience,” said Heather Hage, vice president, industry and external affairs, at the Research Foundation for SUNY.

Albers, who serves on the Verdimine Board of Advisors, says the startup is now looking for partnerships and customers for the innovative chemical process.

“This is a wonderful example of higher education collaboration in bringing an innovative new product to market, and we think interest in this unique process will be high among industries that use imines,” said Albers. “Our students have worked hard on making this happen, and the support of Dr. Bennett, the Research Foundation for SUNY and many others has been crucial in moving Verdimine forward.”

Research at SUNY produces more than 200 new technologies a year. The Research Foundation for SUNY protects the valuable intellectual property generated at SUNY campuses and works with and industry and businesses, like Verdimine, to translate research discoveries into commercial products that benefit society and spur economic development.