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Nanova Biomaterials, Inc. cuts ribbon on new facility

Ribbon

Holding the scissors, Columbia Mayor Bob McDavid, Hao Li, Regional Economic Development Inc. (REDI) past chair Vicki Russell, Steve Wyatt, MU vice provost for economic development; and Mike Downing, acting director of the Missouri Department of Economic Development (DED), cut a ceremonial ribbon with Columbia Chamber of Commerce Ambassadors to open Nanova Biomaterials, Inc.’s new facility.

On Oct. 30, state and local economic development agencies gathered for a ribbon cutting at the new 6,000 sq. foot facility of Nanova Biomaterials, Inc. (NBI), a company founded and operated by MU Engineering mechanical engineering faculty members Hao Li and Qingsong Yu; orthopedic physician Kenneth Lambert and their chief scientist Meng Chen.

Li, NBI’s president, said the building houses the company’s offices, its research and development and will accommodate the manufacture of its orthopedic and dental devices. NBI is in production on their first product, StarBright, a dental varnish recently approved by the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) for use by dentists.

Li

Mechanical engineering Associate Professor Hao Li shows MU Deputy Chancellor Michael Middleton how StarBright, NBI’s sodium flouride varnish, works.

“It delivers fluoride to the teeth and will help adults have less sensitivity and will also help prevent cavities,” said Li.

The group has been planning to commercialize their technologies since 2005.

“We started with some technology, and we had discussions with dentists and doctors about their needs and where we might be able to make some contributions,” Li said. “That’s where we got this idea. It’s a collaboration between engineers, dentists, doctors, industry and investors. We’ve had a lot of help from a lot of people.”

NBI has some additional projects in the works, including a dental filler, dental and surgical devices and a vascular clip that would be used during surgery and left in place.

Another project in the company’s pipeline is surgical screws that are a product of Li’s 2009 National Science Foundation CAREER Award. Li said he expects FDA approval of the screws within two years.

The researcher has known that he wanted to be an entrepreneur since he was a student. He took management and other pertinent classes in preparation to launch a biomedical enterprise, but stressed that this path is not for everyone.

“[Economic development] is the fourth mission of the university, but the first three [teaching, research and service] are more important,” Li said. “But for those of us on campus who are working on [commercialization], we can support and learn from each other.”

Li said the university community, including MU Extension’s Small Business Technology and Development Center, has provided emotional and financial support, but advisers from outside the academic community play a pivotal role in the process because the university doesn’t have all the answers.

“I think the environment is also very important; the local economy,” Li continued. “We realize this is not Silicon Valley, and while Columbia is a nice place to start a business, there are difficulties as there is little venture capital here. It also has been difficult to find those who have had experience with the FDA and those with experience with medical device marketing.”

NBI received an investment of more than $7 million from SummitView Capital, a Chinese-based venture capital firm.

When asked if he had advice for others considering an entrepreneurial path, Li said to be open-minded and humble.

“You have to put your ego away,” he said. “You have to know what you don’t know — sometimes it’s better to know your weaknesses than your strengths.”

Nanova, NBI’s parent corporation, also operates a facility in China. Li said the company plans to eventually increase its international presence.

“We are moving ahead, following steps on a long term plan,” said Li. “Knowing that plans change, it’s been a surprise that we have progressed as we have — not too fast and not too slow.

“We are here and we want to make the world better; we want to make our customers happy.”