University of Florida researchers behind Florida Insect Control Group, a pest control device company, originally intended to protect deployed military personnel from insect-borne diseases, shared the story of their #Research2Startup path at the University Innovation and Entrepreneurship Showcase in Washington, D.C..
Organized by the Association of Public & Land-Grant Universities and the Association of American Universities, the D.C. showcase highlights the role of federally-funded university research in fueling entrepreneurship, innovation and economic opportunity nationwide. The Florida Insect Control Group, which offers environmentally safe, long-lasting and cost-effective solutions for control of both adult and larvae mosquitoes and flies, is one of 20 startups participating in the event.
“The initial goal for the research was to protect deployed warfighters from flies and mosquitoes,” explained Philip Koehler, a professor at UF’s Department of Entomology & Nematology, Urban Entomology Laboratory, and head of research for the Florida Insect Control Group startup.
“Deployed troops are often in temporary positions and are limited in the size and weight of supplies. Flies and mosquitoes threaten their health and ability to respond to the enemy,” Koehler said. “We developed fly and mosquito traps and larvicidal chips to deal with the problems of insects for deployed warfighters.”
Florida Insect Control Group develops products that are easily manufactured and shipped. Instead of releasing pesticides into the air or water, the startup embeds the pesticide in micro-porous plastic polymers or within porous fabrics, providing the exact minimum lethal dose needed to kill. The products attract the insect by providing the right shape, color, odor, surface, and materials mosquitoes and flies like.
“The major problem with mosquitoes is that they need water, and water breaks down insecticide,” Koehler explained. “We used polymer-embedded insecticide to allow the devices to deliver insecticide to mosquito larvae and adults for months. The trap kills mosquitoes when they land inside the container to rest or lay eggs. The larvicidal chips release insect growth regulator into water to prevent larvae from turning into adults. According to WHO standards, the water is potable and safe for humans, domestic animals, and wildlife.”
Grants from the Deployed WarFighter Protection program (DWFP) enabled Koehler, fellow researcher Dr. Roberto Pereira and their team to develop the fly trap and the mosquito traps and chips. The military provided military students to do a lot of the research; these were preventive medicine technicians familiar with issues associated with deployed warfighters worldwide.
“Their experience was invaluable to incorporate their knowledge of vectors in other countries so that the products would work in virtually any part of the world,” Koehler said.
UF obtained about six patents on the technologies the team developed; Florida Insect Control Group, led by founder and CEO Enrico Paolo Levi, licensed the technologies.
“Enrico has worked very well and very closely with UF’s scientists (Drs. Koehler and Pereira) to develop and refine both the mosquito and fly control products,” said Dr. John Byatt, associate director at UF Innovate | Tech Licensing, which coordinates the transfer of technology from the lab to startups and industry partners. “He also has brought in key investors who have helped guide the regulatory pathway and open up partnering and distribution channels.”
Florida Insect Control Group’s products target container-breeding mosquitoes (the carriers of Dengue, Zika, West Nile, Chikungunya, and Yellow Fever) and house flies that are responsible for spreading more than 60 different diseases (including typhoid fever, dysentery, anthrax, and tuberculosis).
“The story of being funded for research for the military, providing education for military students, publication of results in theses, dissertations, and peer-reviewed journals, and, finally, commercialization by Florida Insect Control Group so that products become available to the military as well as the general public is a compelling story,” said Koehler.
“It shows that federal funding and partnership can result in needed products being made available broadly.”
The mosquito products are in the last phases of approval by the Environmental Protection Agency and the European Union. Florida Insect Control Group has the attention of firms all over the world interested in distributing or using the products.
A selection committee of innovation experts chose participating startups based on level of student engagement and the strength of the technology and its connection to research. Members of Congress, their staff, and national economic development and innovation policy members will be present at this widely attended event.