The VIC Fellows Program was created in late 2019 as a mechanism for individuals with specific expertise to learn about and be involved in identifying and evaluating promising life science innovations from universities, institutes, and national labs around the world. We are pleased to highlight the members of the 2020 class of fellows, including this interview with Greg Tucker.
Can you please tell us a little bit about yourself and your background?
I am Dr. Telpriore “Greg” Tucker, a life-long learner living an exciting ‘green’ lifestyle. I have a strong affinity for applied science. Whenever I get the chance, I educate students or engage the general public by providing stimulating presentations and demonstrations.
I obtained a Doctorate in Chemistry with an emphasis in electrochemistry from the School of Molecular Sciences at Arizona State University. I earned my Bachelor’s of Science in Chemistry from the Historically Black College or University, Tennessee State University in Nashville. As an undergraduate researcher, I was fortunate to have the opportunity to conduct biological studies on the immune system’s response to harmful chemical toxins. Additionally, I performed pharmacological studies on neurofibrillary tangles at the University of Iowa and on amyloid plaques at The University of Helsinki in Finland, both related to the mentally debilitating Alzheimer’s disease. My enthusiasm for fuel cell studies and renewable energies began at Technológico de Monterrey in México just months before graduation.
Your background is mostly in physical science; how do you think your experience will add unique values to the VIC’s life science-focused startups?
Professionally, I specialize in chemical synthesis on either the benchtop with strong acids and flammable gases in the wet lab or within a glove box, carefully handling moisture-sensitive chemicals and pyrophoric metals. Currently, my research focus is on the physicochemical and electrochemical characterization and performance testing of novel materials for potential applications in stationary and mobile power sources for electronic devices such as electric vehicles. I am a co-inventor in the lab of Austen Angell on multiple issued U.S. patents for a proprietary electrolyte for hydrogen/oxygen fuel cell technology and for a non-flammable, solid separator for battery systems.
My current goal is to use my experience in the physical sciences to assess investment opportunities for VIC in the space. This includes identifying novel compositions of matter, probing protocols for procedural steps to optimize processes, proposing potential device applications, plus the necessary planning with the inventors (usually professors) and other valued partners (typically the TTO personnel) to fully vet the technology. Importantly, I also serve as a supporting cast member for the VIC team within the broad range of chemistries and materials science. We have been collectively advising each other when combing through volumes of technologies and providing our respective feedbackTell us about your entrepreneurial experiences? How did you start it, and why? What have you learned from this experience?
I’ve always been fascinated with entrepreneurship, especially as a graduate student. I helped our team pitch our first entrepreneurial venture, Solar Ionix, to receive a grant from the ASU Edson Initiative. Our mission was to develop a novel electrochemical method to efficiently deposit silicon to produce cost-effective, photovoltaic (solar) cells. We had successes and failures, but importantly, we learned valuable research and development lessons. Later, I became more motivated to obtain my doctorate when better-understanding the benefits of intellectual property (IP) after completing a stint with the U.S. Dept of Energy.
It started with a vision of providing options for how everyday people commute to work or get around their local communities. Being an avid cyclist, I eventually founded the first electric bike (e-bike) club at ASU that evolved into a light electric vehicle (LEV) company. Our team customized the design with an international manufacturer, raised seed funding, then sold LEVs (e-bikes and e-scooters) across the Greater Phoenix Metro Valley and throughout the country. One of my roles was to provide engaging and informative presentations, spreading the vision at the ASU Global School of Sustainability, Phoenix’s Economic & Development Dept, AZ Green Chamber of Commerce, and other venues. I wanted new riders to realize their new LEV purchase's full potential by providing the fastest, safest, and most energy-efficient routes for maximizing mileage to work, running errands, recreation at parks, and rediscovering their neighborhoods. For providing these sustainable travel solutions to customers, the company was recognized a Small Business-of-the-Year.
Now, I’m genuinely embracing being a ‘thought leader’ in my community by communicating ideas, collaborating more so with other like-minded individuals, and actively planning an IP portfolio fitting the scope for Electric Vehicles & Smart Cities. Most recently, I’ve been an active reviewer for the first built car-free community in the country, Culdesac Tempe Condos, and serve as an advisor for the Boston Museum of Science.You are quite active in the scientific and social communities; what the organizations are you involved in, and what do you want to get out of them?
I’m the current co-advisor for the Chief Science Officers, an ASU-sponsored program for a K-12 student leadership group in our local community. I thoroughly enjoy watching young people’s faces light up during my STEM-related events with National Society of Black Engineers Junior, Urban League Young Professionals, and AZ Sci-Tech Festival. For these efforts, I earned the title, “The Visionary” as a local honoree in the inaugural 2018 Phoenix Magazine 40 under 40 edition. In addition to these groups, I’m also involved with other organizations, including the Association of University Technology Managers (AUTM), the National Academy of Inventors (NAI), the Central Arizona of the American Chemical Society (CAZACS), the African/African-American Faculty & Staff Association (AAAFSA) at ASU, the National Organization for the Professional Advancement of Black Chemist & Chemical Engineers (NOBCChE), just to name a few.What are the emerging trends that you’re seeing in your field and the broader IP sector?
Some notable examples are: 1. The decreasing costs of fabrication for photovoltaic cells for energy generation,; 2. The advancement of fuel cell technology for mid-large grid systems powered by reformed natural gas, generating energy at twice the efficiency along with using the combined heat generated when compared to internal combustion engine (ICE) sources; 3. The increased applications for electric vehicles (EVs) and hydrogen infrastructure; and, 4. Addressing the internal components of new electrocatalytic alloy nano-particulates to create more thermodynamically favorable operational efficiencies and cost-effective materials of construction.; 5. Innovation in electric vehicle R&D.
What is it about the VIC Fellows program that piqued your interest?
I’m well-versed in research, as well as filing/evaluating disclosed IP, and transitioned relatively quickly into the world of university technology transfer. I consider myself a serial entrepreneur and would like to refine my understanding of patent commercialization further. The VIC Fellows program enables me to rapidly increase my knowledge of the novelty and advantages amongst available IP and the opportunity to assess the feasibility of a venture with my peers and seasoned colleagues. This means that I’ve now gained five perspectives in tech transfer: the inventor of the IP, the entrepreneurial venture licensing the IP, the seller of IP as the TTO, the potential investor in the IP (VIC), and finally, the customer of the IP.
While embarking on my journey in the IP sector, I’ve attended an IP seminar offered by the local section of the American Chemical Society, and then later organized a seminar with an IP law professor for our graduate chapter of the Electrochemical Society. Now, I’ve had the time to “pay it forward” by presenting IP-related topics to the next generation of upcoming scientists with the U.S. Dept of Energy and the ASU Fulton Schools of Engineering. I’m extremely passionate in the IP sector and this has inspired me to create an IP Basics Virtual Course to teach IP fundamentals including the types of IP, filing steps, identifying inventions , and addressing the IDEA, SUCCESS, Bayh-Dole Acts, as well as the U.S. FDA Emergency Use Authorization during the present 2020 Pandemic. My future goals are to become a registered U.S. patent agent and certified licensing professional.When evaluating a new technology, what are some key factors that you look for?
My criteria are a culmination of my scientific background, entrepreneurial experiences, and invention evaluations, to best determine the viability of the selected IP for commercialization. When seeking a new IP, I first consider if it is or can be a disruptive technology to significantly affect its sector and make the crucial change for the betterment of our society, as well as garnering a significant share of the market space.How would you describe the current life and physical sciences innovation ecosystem in Arizona and the southwest US overall?
Historically, the GDP has been represented the 5 C’s of Arizona (AZ5C): Copper, Cattle, Citrus, Cotton & Climate. Over the decades, new sectors have emerged that will play a role in shifting the current economy.: The Valley of the Sun is transforming into the Silicon Desert. Universities and national labs in the adjoining state of New Mexico are contributing significantly to the Southwest region, with successful early-stage ventures and commercialization at the federal lab level.
How can universities and their research staff (faculty, postdocs, graduate students, etc.) be more translationally-minded and improve the applicability/relevance of their innovation to global healthcare?
I believe it begins simply with more awareness of the IP space. From my perspective, many faculty and students are unfamiliar with the patent process and even less so concerning commercialization of IP. Typically, the TTO and the department leadership do their best to inform and educate. More of this is needed to further communicate the myriad benefits to their labs, their university, their local community, and the general public.