AJ and Heather working with T-BlocksA.J. Mellott (left) and Heather Decker created T-Blocks, a refined way to produce cells.

June 01, 2020

NSF I-Corps program at Wichita State helps launch Kansas City biotechnology startup

By WSU Strategic Initiatives

 A Kansas City biotechnology startup company is getting a boost thanks to Wichita State University’s National Science Foundation (NSF) Shocker Innovation Corps (I-Corps) program.

T-Blocks are changing the way primary stem cells are grown. The technology, owned by the Kansas City-based startup, Ronawk LLC and co-founders A.J. Mellott and Heather Decker, is conducting extensive research on stem cells at the University of Kansas Medical Center.

The team participated in last summer’s Shocker Innovation Corps program and went through the required E-Launch training associated with it.

“We established a company in February 2019, but we weren’t the most organized,” said Mellott, Ronawk president. “One of the things that several colleagues recommended to us is to get involved with the NSF’s I-Corps program. We were in for a pleasant surprise when we discovered how incredibly useful the program was to us.”

“Going through the I-Corps program has accelerated our development and progression and our ability to engage with other resources and other programs that are out there to help entrepreneurs,” said Mellott.

The T-Blocks concept, which could reinvent stem cell biotech, was discovered four years ago. The technology creates a 3-dimensional environment, while maintaining stem cell characteristics of the cell population outside of the body, to rapidly increase the expansion of stem cells. The T-blocks reduce the current work hours by 85 percent. For every T-block unit, they can grow up to 300 million cells. These cells can then be used for early-stage diagnostics or in repairing injured tissues.

Since taking part in the program, the Ronawk team has been busy attending trade shows, participating in additional startup programs, and securing funding. They will soon be moving into their very own lab.

“This is a huge milestone for us,” said Mellott. “In a little over a year, we went from a concept in a little office to a full-blown lab.”

“A.J. and I are scientists at heart, so being able to have a lab allows us to continue a lot of the research and development,” said Decker.

Ronawk LLC plans to move into their new facility in Kansas City next month.

The Ronawk LLC team applied for the Shocker Innovation Corps Program in 2019 and received $2,150 in seed funding to develop their prototype and to research customer discovery. Even though the team was not created at Wichita State, Ronawk LLC were still eligible to participate and receive the funding, as well as, entrepreneurial training and resources that Wichita State has to offer.

“The program is outstanding. I don’t care if entrepreneurs are from Kansas City or western Kansas on the border by Colorado, we strongly recommend this program to anyone in Kansas and anyone who is eligible. It is an excellent program.” said Mellott.

To find out more about the Shocker Innovation Corps Program, visit www.shockericorps.org.