If home is where the heart is, then one UT Austin couple painted theirs burnt orange.

Cockrell School of Engineering associate professors, Drs. Marissa Nichole and Chris Rylander, are partners in the lab–and in life. Their Longhorn love story began many burnt orange moons ago when they met as students at UT freshmen orientation. As their interests in research and innovation grew, so did their relationship, and they eventually married… on the UT campus, of course.

Dr. Chris Rylander’s UT roots go back even further. His father is a professor in the Biomedical Engineering department, and his grandfather was a former chair for the Mechanical Engineering department. As lifetime Longhorns, Marissa Nichole and Chris, also known as “the Thermo Couple”, have a shared passion for innovation, entrepreneurship, and UT Austin, which fuels their drive to deliver groundbreaking technologies from the lab to the marketplace.

Their latest project, Rapid Thermal Control of Liquids or RealCooL, is a prime example of their disruptive approach to innovation. This platform technology was inspired to solve their own problem with warming breast milk rapidly, safely, and precisely for their own babies. Current technologies for warming breast milk take too long (10-15 min), and frequently exceed the intended temperature, potentially creating safety concerns and damage to nutrients… RealCooL aims to revolutionize their beachhead markets in the breast milk warming and wine chilling industries by providing a fast and efficient way to heat and cool liquids with precision and minimal impact on nutrition, taste, and chemistry. The core technology can also be used for other applications as well, including:

1. Rapid cooling or heating of other liquids at home and at restaurants (e.g. coffee, tea, beer, mixed drinks)
2. Warming of intravenous fluids, blood, and drugs for hospitals and military operations
3. Preparation of drug emulsions for pharmaceutical and chemical companies
4. Development of solutions in which preparation or enhancement of reaction rates depend on temperature and mixing.

The team bringing RealCooL technology to the market has recently completed the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) rigorous National I-CorpsÔ program and conducted over 100 interviews to validate the team’s business model. In addition, the team has also recently successfully submitted to the NSF a prestigious $1M Partnership for Innovation Research Partner track grant securing multiple partnerships with potential customers and investors to help bring their technology to market. Dr. Chris Rylander is familiar with the world of entrepreneurship, having already launched a startup based on one of his previous NSF I-Corps technologies. The startup, ClearCam, received FDA 510(k) clearance in 2020 for its in vivo laparoscope cleaning device and has since been used in over 1,200 patient surgeries across the U.S. and received investment from UT’s inaugural venture fund. Dr. Rylander is currently participating as co-PI in another I-Corps project called Trinity Tube.  The market being explored is level 3 and 4 neonatal intensive care units (NICUs) with multiple needs for improved feeding, respiratory therapy, and vital sign monitoring of preterm infants. His team completed over 180 customer discovery interviews and has won multiple business plan competitions.

The Rylanders driving force is their vision to change the world for the benefit of society. “We have a shared desire to take our ideas out of the lab and into the world where they can have a real impact,” says Dr. Marissa Rylander. “That’s what drives us every day.”

Their journey into entrepreneurship has required them to face challenges head on, take risks, and persevere. They credit the NSF I-Corps program for providing them with the support, resources, and mentorship they needed to turn their innovative ideas into successful businesses.

“The I-Corps program was a game-changer for us,” says Dr. Chris Rylander. “It gave us access to a network of experts and mentors who helped us refine our ideas and focus on the critical aspects of our projects. It also gave us the tools and resources we needed to turn our research into reality.”

Their success with the I-Corps program and their innovative technologies demonstrate the critical role that the program plays in enabling and fostering innovation and entrepreneurship at UT Austin.

“We believe that innovation is the key to creating a better future, and we’re committed to doing our part,” says Dr. Marissa Rylander. “We want to encourage others to think big and take risks, and to never stop pursuing their dreams.”

The Rylanders have successfully submitted a $1M NSF Partners for Innovation Research Partnership grant and have the desire to spinoff another company to commercialize their RealCooL technology.

Learn more about the NSF I-Corps program and apply for the next cohort online. It only takes 5 minutes to apply and it is free. For more information and to learn more about the NSF I-Corps program, contact Weston Waldo.

Posted by the University of Texas at Austin on May 16, 2023.