Entrepreneurs with MU ties share challenges, progress at REDI event

Bill Ma, a professor at the University of Missouri and CEO of ThermAvant Technologies, has been struggling to promote his company’s new product.

But Columbia’s Regional Economic Development Inc., or REDI, gave Ma and other businesses developed through university research the chance to share their progress with the community on Tuesday at REDI’s quarterly event.

REDI hosted a panel at Boone County History & Culture Center to highlight the university’s work supporting business growth in Missouri and to showcase expanding businesses. The event featured Ma; Hao Li, a professor at MU and co-founder of Nanova Biomaterials; and Mark McIntosh, MU’s vice chancellor of research, graduate studies and economic development.

Ma came to the university with a research speciality in thermal heat transfer and electronic cooling. His company, ThermAvant, produces heat transferring devices for military applications and consumer products, like the new BurnOut mug. The thermal mug, which is manufactured in Columbia, is designed to reduce initial temperatures of a hot drink to a comfortable drinking level within a couple of minutes and then maintain that temperature longer

Though Ma recognizes that people have plenty of coffee mugs filling up their cupboards, he said this one is different. REDI’s event gave him the chance to reach out to the business community about his struggles to advertise the mug and his need to work with a local marketing company.

“People don’t know our product, but once they try it, they love it,” Ma said. “We need to spread more information so people become familiar with my mug.”

Li also joined Ma on the panel to share his company’s progress and his hope for expansion. Nanova Biomaterials began in 2007 and uses nanotechnology research to produce medical devices and programs to develop drugs. It started with 13 employees and has multiplied its workforce to 60 people. Li told the community that his company wants to expand and is looking for more investors to accomplish that.

“We just want to work with people who care about our health and our families,” Li said. “I think this is how we can move the investors and get their money to Columbia. We have a lot of talent, and we hire a lot of people from the university. I think that’s a very good infrastructure for Columbia to expand business.”

McIntosh highlighted how investing in businesses like Ma’s and Li’s benefits both them and the community.

“The university is looking to improve the entrepreneurial ecosystem in the community,” McIntosh said. “We are investing, not only in faculty, but also in different technology management patents, royalties, and so on to make these things more effective. And, in essence, it’s building a better ecosystem, just really creating a support structure.”

REDI hosts its quarterly mixers to focus on its goal of retaining and expanding businesses like Ma and Li’s in mid-Missouri.

“I think panels like this, events like this, allow the business community to have more awareness and more understanding of what the needs are of not only the businesses but what the university can provide,” said Stacey Button, president of REDI. “It has an educational value and it’s critically important to know who your fellow companies are and the types of things created right here in our hometown.”

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