Wired In: Jean Paul Allain

Wired In: Jean Paul Allain

On Sundays, staff writer Paul Wood spotlights a high-tech difference-maker. This week, meet JEAN PAUL ALLAIN. He is the president, CEO and founder of Editekk, an early-stage start-up with a revolutionary process for manipulating surfaces and interfaces at the atomic level. The name sounds French, but the University of Illinois professor is from Colombia. He is in the Department of Nuclear, Plasma and Radiological Engineering.

Tell us about what you have to offer.

Our slogan is We're innovating materials one atom at a time. We're literally manipulating atoms to induce changes on surfaces. Our technology enables us to do the modification process quite quickly compared to other companies. It's non-toxic; we use physics, and not depend solely on chemical changes. It runs at room temperature. Our current focus is on biomedical devices such as implants but we will expand into other areas that involve surfaces and interfaces. We can do things in 10 seconds of processing that might take other companies hours and hours. We can design as many as three or four different functions with a single exposure. It depends on the specific materials, it depends a lot on how we design the modification source, but what's exciting is that's a technology that can scale to industrial levels. It really is going to disrupt the nano-fabrication space.

How did the company start?

It was founded in 2012 while I was a professor at Purdue University. I moved here to the university in 2013 and established it in the Innovation Ecosystem here, which has been tremendous. It's one of the reasons I came to Champaign. I am an Illini alum, so I'm actually coming back to the area.

Who's on your team?

Katherine Chen is the chief financial officer. She has an MBA from the university. Zachariah Koyn is finishing his master's in plasma engineering; he's our chief technology officer.

How did you get the idea?

The impetus for a startup came from my passion for seeing that the discoveries in our laboratory make a difference, an impact in society, and really wanting to see that in a more strategic way. It was founded around intellectual property in radiation synthesis, which is way to modify materials. We have an exclusive license to the intellectual property we produced at Purdue. Right now, we are working on transferring intellectual property for our lab at the University of Illinois. We arrived here at EnterpriseWorks in March. We've been advancing quite a bit.

You're starting with biomedical applications?

Surfaces and interfaces are very important for implants in the body, since a lot of the biological function depends on the interaction of the body with the foreign materials that are introduced. Your body's immune system is going to respond to these materials in very specific ways, We have technology that can modify the surface of these foreign bodies to make them look and make them function closer to the way your body functions. In addition to that, we're making these materials have additional functions that will help these implants integrate into your body; for example, introducing anti-bacterial properties that make these materials help in terms of infection and other challenges.

And is there interest in the process that translates into dollars?

I received the faculty entrepreneurial award, for resources to develop prototypes around certain technologies. We were awarded a Phase 1 Department of Energy grant that has been driving a lot of our effort. We have interest from biomedical companies in our process. We are going to be looking for venture capital in the near future as we are seeing more and more demand for our technology.

What do you have that nobody else has?

We have a technology that can modify and introduce function to surfaces without any use of toxic chemicals. We minimize chemical waste.

Where do you se yourself going in the near future?

Right now the key is to establish first-level prototype systems to scale our modification. We have customers that have an interest, we have a business model that provides a service to these customers, we're working on being able to scale that modification, to scale to larger quantities, since we can provide multiple functions from just one exposure.

What is your long-term goal?

We're looking at different spaces where we can work; we've identified the biomedical market as one where we can have an immediate impact. That's not the only space we intend to disrupt. We're very versatile; we can modify just about any type of material, ceramics, metals, semi-conductors, polymers, natural materials. Ours is a green technology. We feel strongly about the impact we have on the environment. We also want to impact emerging economies around the world; we have contacts in South America and other parts of the world where we can make a difference and be an enabler.

TECH TIDBITS ... from JEAN PAUL ALLAIN

Do you have any wearable electronics? My partners do.

What social media are you on? We're on Twitter, we'll be on Facebook. We just launched a website, http://www.editekk.com

Do you prefer to read on a book or electronically? A lot of my work is reading, mostly between my laptop and my iPad. But I'm a little bit old school, too, so

I'll have my stack of papers. I'm reading Thomas Kuhn's "The Structure of Scientific Revolutions."

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