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Company Acquires Tech Startup With Roots At South Dakota Mines

South Dakota Mines

A larger company has acquired a South Dakota startup that began with research by two university professors.

Todd Menkhaus and Hao Fong started their research in 2006 at South Dakota Mines in Rapid City.

They study nanofibers, which Menkhaus described as "really, really small-diameter fibers."

"They’re about a thousand times smaller than a human hair," Menkhaus said. "So you can imagine how tiny these things are.”

They developed a way to make the nanofibers into membranes. The membranes can purify medications and vaccines up to 100 times faster than existing methods.

“So it’s kind of like a sponge or a filter," Menkhaus said. "All the material that starts on one end of the filter and goes through, our nanofibers capture all of the bad stuff and let all the good stuff go through very selectively.”

Menkhaus and Fong turned their research into a company called Nanopareil. They moved the company into a business incubator on the Mines campus, and then they expanded to an additional lab in Sioux Falls.

Now, the company has been acquired by Gamma Biosciences, which is based in California. Terms were not disclosed in the announcement. Joseph Wright, the associate vice president for research and economic development at Mines, described the deal as unique in its magnitude and importance.

“This would be a big deal for any major research university, but for a smaller school like South Dakota Mines, it’s virtually unprecedented," Wright said in a news release. "This demonstrates that Mines researchers can be world leaders in research and innovation.”

Menkhaus said the deal resulted from a lot of hard work.

“It hasn’t been easy," he said. "It only took 14 years to be an overnight success.”

Nanopareil will continue to operate in South Dakota with plans to grow. Menkhaus will work with the company and continue as a professor at Mines.

Although Menkhaus said the company is not currently associated with any COVID-19 vaccines, he said the company’s technology does have the potential to make the production of vaccines faster and cheaper.

-Seth Tupper is SDPB's business and economic development reporter.

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