Top USTAR moments of 2018

2018 was a busy year for Utah’s deep science and technology sectors, full of new funding rounds, technology commercialization milestones, and other achievements for Utah’s innovation community.

As the year comes to a close, the Utah Science Technology and Research Initiative (USTAR) takes a look back at some of the top moments for deep science and technology in 2018, from foreign direct investment to the inaugural Utah Technology Innovation Summit.

  1. USTAR strengthens Air Force strategic partnerships

With the opening of the USTAR Innovation Center in 2017, a primary objective was to support Utah’s aerospace and defense industry, including the U.S. Air Force. To that end, the Innovation Center and Hill Air Force Base established a partnership in 2018, enabling the base’s engineers to utilize the Innovation Center’s state-of-the-art equipment to design and develop prototypes that are used in maintaining the base’s fleet of fighter jets.  

Additionally, in July, USTAR and the University of Utah hosted events in partnership with the Air Force Research Lab (AFRL) to support the Air Force Science and Technology 2030 initiative, which was launched this year to help the Air Force develop technologies to meet the United States’ national security and defense needs.

As part of these events, USTAR connected the Air Force to researchers, entrepreneurs, and scientists who were developing technologies that could help meet the United States’ national security and defense needs.

Some of the Utah technologies highlighted included autonomous UAV flight planning, rocket propellant, and chemical sensors. Groups in USTAR’s portfolio that presented to the Air Force included Optisys, Coreform, Turner Innovations, Vaporsens, Adranos, Conductive Composites, the Brigham Young University PRISM Group, and the Utah State University Propulsion Team.

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  1. Inaugural Utah Technology Innovation Summit sells out

In June, USTAR hosted the inaugural Utah Technology Innovation Summit, which included keynotes from government leaders on technology innovation policy and the presentation of the 31st Annual Governor’s Medals for Science and Technology by Governor Gary R. Herbert.

The sold-out event was attended by more than 350 people, who participated in discussions centered around building effective policies and regulations around autonomous systems, securing funding and strategic partnerships for entrepreneurs, building effective governance for startup companies, and discussing the role of government in facilitating innovation.

Keynote speakers and presenters included Lieutenant Governor Spencer Cox, Salt Lake County Mayor and Congressman-Elect Ben McAdams, Senator-Elect Mitt Romney, and Governor Gary R. Herbert.

Romney’s afternoon keynote focused on his experience with technology innovation in the private sector, initiatives formed while he was governor in Massachusetts, and challenges facing deep technology companies in Utah.

“There are deep technology innovators that also need to be attracted to our state.  About 90 percent of venture capital in our state over the last five years has gone to software and service businesses,” said Romney. “Very little actually gets into some of the deep technologies that are so essential to our long-term growth. And these technologies typically take a long time to generate the kinds of returns that venture capitalist often want. And that’s of course, where USTAR fits in.”

Also at the summit, Governor Herbert and USTAR recognized the winners of the 2018 Governor’s Medals for Science and Technology, the state’s highest honor for those who have made significant contributions to the science and technology fields.

The winners included Dana Carroll, Ph.D., distinguished professor in the Department of Biochemistry at the University of Utah (Academic/Research); Tyson Grover, science curriculum advisor at the Davis School District, elementary STEM professor at Weber State University, and online science endorsement course developer for the Utah State Board of Education (K-12 Education); and George Hansen, chief technology officer and co-founder, Conductive Composites (Industry).

Additionally, Gov. Herbert recognized Russell M. Nelson, M.D., Ph.D., with a medal for lifetime achievement. A world-renowned heart surgeon and medical researcher, Dr. Nelson was celebrated for his groundbreaking work that continues to play a vital role in modern cardiac surgery practices.

Next year’s Utah Technology Innovation Summit will take place on April 1, 2019. For more information visit

  1. Utah shines at Bio Korea

In May, USTAR and Church & State, a non-profit business incubator, coordinated a trip to Bio Korea—one of the world’s largest bioindustry trade shows—with support from the Center for Technology and Venture Commercialization (TVC) at the University of Utah, World Trade Center Utah (WTC Utah), and the Economic Development Corporation (EDCUtah).

Six USTAR client companies—iVeena Delivery Systems, Photorithm, Progenitor Life Sciences, Q Therapeutics, T3S Technologies, and TheraTarget—were able to meet with potential investors, network with strategic partners, and demonstrate their technologies to institutional customers.

Two foreign direct investments from Korea in Utah’s deep technology sector were finalized in 2018. Mountain Pacific Venture Fund, a Salt Lake City-based venture capital firm, received investment into its debut fund by TY BIO Investment, Inc., a wholly-owned subsidiary of South Korea-based Tongyang Networks Co., Ltd in August. Additionally, Navigen—another USTAR client company—closed on a funding round from Mountain Pacific Venture Fund, TY BIO Investment, and University Venture Fund II.

Mountain Pacific Venture Fund, which is operated by the founders of Church & State, was able to utilize Bio Korea to accelerate both of the two investments. The trade show also further developed USTAR’s strategic partnerships with Church & State, and opened the opportunity for an MOU with Yonsei University’s affiliated medical school in Seoul. USTAR, WTC Utah, and other partners are already arranging plans to return to the trade show in 2019.

  1. USTAR-supported companies close on new funding rounds

2018 was a banner year for USTAR companies that were able to close successfully on follow-on investment rounds.

In addition to Navigen, some of the USTAR client companies that secured follow-on investments include nView medical, a Utah surgical imaging company, which raised $1.2 million; Inertial Sense, a GPS sensor technology company, closed on $2 million; and Turner Imaging Systems closed on a round with Radnet Management, Inc., Cavendish Impact Capital, and private investors.

In calendar year 2017, USTAR-supported companies secured $62.7 million in follow-on funding.

  1. USTAR meets five-year performance metrics in two years

When USTAR’s statute was re-written in 2016, SRI International—a leading research institute—wrote a prospectus detailing 5-year performance benchmarks for USTAR’s new programs.

USTAR has met its 5-year benchmarks in just two years, according to data collected and verified by a third-party consultant, TEConomy Partners, LLC.  In just two years, USTAR-supported companies received $123.1 million in follow-on funding, created 424 high-wage full- and part-time jobs, and generated $27 million in product sales.

TEConomy found that from the first to second year of USTAR’s new programs, USTAR client companies saw a 351 percent increase in sales. Additionally, the average full-time salary created by USTAR-supported companies was nearly $90,000, which is 187% above the Salt Lake County average.

This performance and impact data highlights not only the effectiveness of USTAR’s programs, but the key role they play in facilitating job creation and economic growth through Utah.

As 2018 comes to a close, USTAR looks forward to building on this success in 2019.