SEEDING INNOVATION WITH ELAINE AND MIKE JACOBSON
Winter 2018

 

Former University of Kentucky faculty member Elaine Jacobson, and her husband Myron “Mike” Jacobson, are successful entrepreneurs who look at more than financial statements to measure the results of their business ventures – they also look to the quality and quantity of the therapeutic applications of their research. “Research is where our hearts are,” said Elaine. “Our thrill is the research.”

They are academics at heart, after all, and this thrill for research is alive and well, and increasing, at the University of Kentucky College of Health Sciences through an award established in their name: the Myron and Elaine Jacobson Innovation Award.

The road of discovery leads to Kentucky

Elaine and Mike were enjoying successful careers as faculty members at the University of North Texas Health Sciences Center when a colleague suggested commercializing their research findings. Soon after, in 1992, Mike and Elaine began looking at the University of Kentucky (UK).

Their primary research focused on cancer, and the UK Markey Cancer Center offered resources and expertise that could take their venture to the next level. Another draw was UK’s Advanced Science and Technology Commercialization Center (ASTCC), a premier entrepreneurial ecosystem business incubator that encourages early-stage, high-technological, start-up company growth. The Jacobsons would be able to move their labs to this facility and take advantage of the proximity to other faculty entrepreneurs.

Both were ready for the challenge of the move and the opportunity to build their careers. “We knew we would need to juggle the demands of our academic work and research while building our company,” Mike said. “In theory, 100 percent of your time would be divided by the company and the university. Instead, it becomes 100 percent to each. It takes great commitment.”

Planting the Seeds of Innovation Through Niadyne and Beyond

The Jacobsons’ deep commitment to biomedical research created new avenues within the health sciences landscape—resulting in the development of a commercial product and new passion to see other researchers succeed as entrepreneurs.

Their research, which was funded by the National Institutes of Health for more than 30 years, led to the development of novel compounds designed for topical delivery of niacin (Vitamin B3). This research also resulted in the awarding of patents related to a niacin prodrug for the treatment of a variety of skin disorders.

From their newly awarded patents, the Jacobsons developed a commercial product called Niadyne to prevent and treat skin conditions that result from an impaired skin barrier. “Your skin barrier is your skin armor,” Elaine said. “You want it to be in good condition. “Our technology drives the repair process for the skin barrier. Most skin-care products only address moisturization.” Their product can be found in brands such as Strivectin, a high-end beauty brand; Nia 24, a physician-dispensed brand; Bath and Body Works lines and in products developed by Canyon Ranch Resorts and Spas. These products have received increasing positive reviews from both consumers and medical professionals alike.

And, the Jacobsons dedication to the spirit of discovery hasn’t ended with Niadyne. Now, royalties from sales of Niadyne products are used to inspire and support research at the University
of Kentucky College of Health Sciences through the Myron and Elaine Jacobson Innovation Award.

The College of Health Sciences established the award in 2017 to generate and accelerate interest in entrepreneurial efforts among UK College of Health Sciences faculty, administration and professional staff. It currently focuses on new, independent ventures in the seed, start-up, or early growth stages.

It made perfect sense to the Jacbosons for the college to create the award from the royalties of their product. “You’ll always stand on the shoulder of those who came before you,” Elaine said. “The UK College of Health Sciences has come far in recent years,” continued Mike. “And we are gratified by this award. For things to grow you have to seed them. It is our hope that this award will seed more innovation in the years to come.”

The Jacobson’s Advice for Future Entrepreneurs

  1. IDENTIFY AN UNMET NEED
  2. CONSIDER WHAT YOUR PRODUCT IS GOING TO BE
    • The product can be a tool (like Google) but you can’t have a company without a product.
  3. THINK ABOUT THE PATENT
    • You can only succeed if you can protect your product. Do not rush to publish your research findings. Develop your product as you work toward the patent. Then publish.
  4. FIND FINANCIAL SUPPORT
    • Commercialization will cost money. The Von Allmen Center for Entrepreneurship at UK provides assistance in the development of a funding roadmap for a company. It also provides access to competitive grants & equity investment resources.
  5. CONSIDER OFFERS CAREFULLY
    • Initial investors will offer an amount that at first sounds good. You need to think another year or two out & consider if that  offer will sustain your work.
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