Partnerships and Innovation

Office of Partnerships and Innovation
Office of Partnerships and Innovation

Making the jump from academia to the market thanks to Wings

The Wings Accelerator program is helping Morgan Lehtinen jump the gap between academic research and commercialization.

A PhD student in chemistry at Queen’s University, in the course of her work towards her degree, Lehtinen has developed a green, low-cost, low-energy system for extracting oils from water. The system would work on almost any oil, but she has chosen to focus on those commonly called metalworking fluids, oils used in a range of industries that are frequently tainted with heavy metals and other toxins and are very difficult to dispose of.

When it comes to working with these, Lehtinen says her process is “something that could really make a difference.” She had already decided on an entrepreneurial career outside the world of pure research as a way to tackle these kinds of environmental problems. But she knew she needed to learn more about business to do that, as this was not information you picked up in a graduate chemistry program.

Lehtinen was working with Jason Hendry, Partnerships Development Officer at Queen’s Partnerships and Innovations (QPI), on opportunities to commercialize her research, and through her connection to QPI learned about the many resources available to entrepreneurs including those offered to women entrepreneurs via the Queen’s-led WE-CAN Project. QPI’s Rick Boswell also suggested she apply to the Wings Accelerator, designed for companies that are advancing science- or technology-based ideas but as yet have no or small recurring revenues.

“I didn’t have any sort of specific goal going into Wings,” she says. “I was just hoping to get some very general guidance.” But she says that the mix of group seminars and one-on-one mentoring (both conducted via Zoom thanks to COVID-19) “ended up giving me a lot more support than I originally sought.”

“I worked mostly with Elza [Seregelyi, one of the program’s co-directors] for all of our one-on-ones,” says Lehtinen. “She knew that my background was heavy on the technical but not on the business side, and she was really able to break that down.”

Andrew Jackson, Wing’s other co-director, helped her focus on her market and differentiate herself from her competitors. Don’t, he told her, try to sell your process as replacement for any current systems that potential customers use. That would be a cost they would not be willing to make. Instead, he said, market it as an enhancement that will decrease the amount of wastewater produced that needs to be trucked away for special treatment. “That,” she says, “is what I ended up with as a business model.”

Lehtinen has roughly a year left to go on her PhD, but remains focused on her filters, “improving the fundamental technology and focusing on adapting it for real world scenarios,” with the plan for really getting going on the venture commercially once she’s finished school. Currently called Smart Filters, her company name is a work in progress and may change in future.

Thanks to Wings she has the skills to do that. “I went in with a technology that I wanted to become a business venture,” she says. “And I came out with a technology and a plan.”

 

The Wings/Growth Acceleration program was made possible with support from the Government of Canada to Queen’s University through the Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario and the Scale-up Platform Project which is led by Invest Ottawa in eastern Ontario and by Queen’s in the Kingston region.

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