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Center helped translate technology to business


CARBONDALE, Ill. -- A leap of faith and some well-placed assistance took Ken Anderson, Southern Illinois University Carbondale geology professor, from the world of academia into the realm of entrepreneurship. 

The Illinois Small Business Development Center at SIU sponsored Operation Mousetrap, the entrepreneurship program that helped Anderson translate the technology he created into Thermaquatica, a business also now housed within the Small Business Incubator Program in the Dunn-Richmond Economic Development Center. Operation Mousetrap helps SIU faculty and staff commercialize their research and innovation technologies. 

“I am kind of an entrepreneur by accident. I started out as an academic with no business experience whatsoever,” Anderson said. “Operation Mousetrap gave me the courage to go ahead and start my own business, which is something I had never even considered before.” 

Anderson, now chief technology officer at Thermaquatica, helped develop and patent the Oxidative Hydrothermal Dissolution technology, an environmentally friendly technology that converts low-value solid materials, such as coal or biomass, into high-value products or plastics that would otherwise be created from crude oil or petroleum-based fuels. 

“Thermaquatica was started in order to enable us to break the ties we have to crude oil,” Anderson said.

The goal was to make higher-quality plastics without the environmental issues that come when using crude oil. The process utilizes different feedstocks or bulks of raw material, such as biomass or coal. 

Anderson said although coal is now “kind of a dirty word” because it is “associated with all sorts of environmental problems,” he hopes to change those negative connotations through Thermaquatica technology. While working as an SIU faculty member, he spent years researching and testing his concepts, eventually receiving research funding to continue the work on a larger scale and work toward commercial applications.  

He soon connected with the Small Business Incubator Program. The program assists faculty, staff, student and community entrepreneurs with the start-up or expansion of small businesses in Southern Illinois by providing affordable space and equipment along with no-cost consultation, training, coaching, networking connections and business plan development assistance. More than 50 organizations have started or expanded operations since the incubator’s start in 1990. 

“They gave me what I needed to know to get started and then helped me avoid some of the obvious pitfalls that I would have stumbled into,” Anderson said.  

Thermaquatica, a research and development company now employing five people, is poised at the edge of commercialization. Anderson said the company will continue to work with the SBDC, which provided valuable resources, support, and helped him connect with experienced investors who shared his vision. He hired a CEO to handle the business aspects of Thermaquatica and said he has “an exceedingly good team. Having good resources and people who will do the work is what it is all about.” 

The SBDC will host “Celebrating 30 years of Small business Success” from 3 to 6 p.m. on Nov. 14 at the Dunn-Richmond Economic Development Center, 1740 Innovation Drive, Carbondale. The event will feature guest speakers, client success stories, awards, a trade show highlighting some of the center’s client success stories and “A Taste of SBDC,” highlighting a large number of area food producers who are clients. For more information, contact Robyn Laur Russell at rrussell@biz.siu.siu or 618/536-2424. 

The Illinois Small Business Development Center/International Trade Center is funded in part through a cooperative agreement with the U.S. Small Business Administration and the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity and hosted by Southern Illinois University Carbondale.