NanoPhotonica Wins $50,000 Cade Museum Prize

By Caitlyn Finnegan

After going through four rounds of judging and pitches, nanotechnology company NanoPhotonica came through with the “secret sauce” judges were looking for to secure the $50,000 Cade Museum Prize.

NanoPhotonica accepted the fourth annual award, along with the cash prize courtesy of the Community Foundation of North Central Florida and $10,000 in free legal fees from the firm Edwards Wildman, Thursday night at the Santa Fe Fine Arts Hall in front of a 350-person crowd.

Going after what CEO Chris Morton calls an “embarrassingly underserved market,” the company is developing a next-generation S-QLED flat panel display using University of Florida licensed technology.

The technology’s use of nanomaterials to produce a thin, low-cost and energy-efficient screen is just what display manufacturers have been searching for in a $60 billion industry that is losing money due to the high costs and limited lifetimes of current options. Tests of the nanomaterials have identified performance advantages including 30 percent less energy usage, superior picture quality and screens that will last twice as long as current displays, according to Morton.

By restructuring the stack of materials used to create the display, the company’s technology can also be used to make similar advances in the solar panel industry. The material’s resistance to UV rays, moisture and oxygen will allow advances like solar panels built into windows, or solar cells built into a stretched out material over a parking garage.

Morton said NanoPhotonica is already in talks with four of the five major manufacturers of display screens, and Samsung’s CTO has already stopped by their offices to solidify the company’s interest in the technology. It has offices in both Orlando and the UF Innovation Hub.

Green Liquid and Gas Technologies took home the People’s Choice Award, marking the first time the audience has also participated in choosing a winner.

Founded by UF professor emeritus Dr. Alex Green, the company has developed a scaleable machine called a pyrolizer that can turn waste into liquid, gaseous and charcoal fuels by “cooking” materials at extremely high temperatures in the absence of oxygen.  Using waste plastic, the process can produce a barrel of oil for less than $10. The company has made it to the Sweet Sixteen round every year of the prize competition, finally entering into the Final Four this year.

The two other finalists for the prize included Didrick Medical’s X-Finger, an advanced artificial finger prosthetic that can be used in more than 500 configurations, and Partender, a business-to-business software solution that reduces the amount of time it takes bars to do inventory from 6 hours to 15 minutes.

Richard Miles, the vice president of the Cade Museum Foundation, explained that winners of the award are chosen based on the innovative qualities of the idea, the potential impact of the idea and how close the idea is to being ready for market.

The statewide competition started in February with 81 original entries, narrowing to the Sweet Sixteen and finally the Final Four. The judges of the final round included Dennis Creek, the executive director of the National Creativity Network, Harold Fethe, vice president of human resources for Anacor Pharmaceuticals, Lesa Mitchell, the vice president for innovation and networks for the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, and Mark Shaver, the senior director of business development and strategic alliances for Johns Hopkins Medicine.

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