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2010 Emerging Entrepreneur Award: Jason Heikenfeld


With more than $5M in funded research in four years, 11 journal articles in 2009 alone, more than a dozen pending or granted patents, and his second spin-off company, you might say that Jason Heikenfeld is running at the speed of light.

Date: 5/4/2010 12:00:00 AM
By: Wendy Beckman
Phone: (513) 556-1826
Photos By: Dottie Stover, photojournalist

UC ingot   Jason Heikenfeld is the son of culinary writer Rita Nader Heikenfeld and Frank Heikenfeld, the long-time manager of the former Heritage restaurant on Route 50 near Terrace Park. A graduate of McNicholas High School, he has lived in Cincinnati for most of his life.

“I came to UC originally for two things,” he says. First, to study electrical engineering and second, I got a track and field scholarship.”

Jason Heikenfeld, recipient of the 2010 Emerging Entrepreneur Award
Jason Heikenfeld, recipient of the 2010 Emerging Entrepreneur Award

He had a good freshman year, but then the injuries started mounting.

“It’s funny when you look back, in retrospect on how you got to where you are,” he says. “It got to the point where I was spending hours before and after practice in constant rehab. Finally I called it quits after three years. That’s when I really started to funnel my intensity into academic pursuits. It was a blessing in disguise.”

Heikenfeld received his BS and PhD degrees in electrical engineering from the University of Cincinnati in 1998 and 2001, respectively.

During his PhD work, Heikenfeld studied under UC’s internationally known Andrew Steckl. His thesis work on gallium nitride light emitters for displays turned into his first startup company with Steckl, which was called Extreme Photonix. While at Extreme Photonix, Heikenfeld led three projects, including a project with IST Inc., which was awarded an “R&D Magazine” Top 100 Award.

Heikenfeld left Cincinnati only briefly to work in Silicon Valley (San Jose, Calif.). Back now in Cincinnati, he and his wife, Jessica, live in Mt. Washington where they are raising their three sons: Luke, William and Jack. When Heikenfeld returned to UC as an assistant professor in 2005, he quickly propelled UC into a position of international leadership in electrofluidic technology. Heikenfeld’s university laboratory, the Novel Devices Laboratory, is currently engaged in electrofluidic device research spanning electronic paper and biomedical applications.

Heikenfeld demonstrates his dynamic window display technology to Representative Ron Maag at Showcase 2010.
Heikenfeld demonstrates his dynamic window display technology to Representative Ron Maag at Showcase 2010.

Since 2006, he has secured more than $5M in funded research, including a prestigious NSF CAREER award and an AFOSR Young Investigator Award (one of only 21 nationally in 2006, across all sciences). He has greater than >100 publications, >100 presentations, published 11 journal articles in 2009, and his inventions have resulted in over a dozen pending or granted patents. His work has been featured on the front cover of the highest rated journals in the field, including “Applied Physics Letters,” “Nature Photonics,” and “Lab-On-a-Chip.” He is a two-time winner of his department’s teaching excellence award, and winner of both the college Neil Wandmacher Teaching Award and the college Research Award for Young Faculty.

Heikenfeld is a senior member of the Institute for Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), a senior member of the Society for Information Display, and a member of SPIE. MRS. Heikenfeld has served on the Board of Governors for the IEEE Photonics Society, is an associate editor of IEEE Journal of Display Technology, and in the past served as technical chair for Displays at the annual IEEE Photonics meeting.

At UC, Heikenfeld serves on the UC Intellectual Property Council, and the recently formed UC Innovation Council. Heikenfeld is a well-known expert in display technology, and recently authored the cover article on displays for the March 2010 Issue of IEEE Spectrum.

A hallmark of Heikenfeld’s research program is partnership with industry. Since 2006 alone, his lab has conducted cutting-edge research projects with global technology leaders including Motorola Research Labs (Az), Sun Chemical (Cincinnati), Polymer Vision (The Netherlands), SeeReal Technologies (Germany), LG (Korea), ITRI (Taiwan) and Prime View International (Taiwan). In addition, his inventions are now resulting in commercial products, including active signage, and a new toy product being launched by Crayola in fall of 2010.

Active in research and entrepreneurship, Heikenfeld is also dedicated to teaching and mentoring.
Active in research and entrepreneurship, Heikenfeld is also dedicated to teaching and mentoring.

Heikenfeld’s most recent discovery, the electrofluidic display, has led him to launch his second company, Gamma Dynamics, which is pursuing commercialization of color e-readers that look as good as conventional printed media. He has been instrumental in attracting funding that has now grown the technical and business staff at the company. The electrofluidic display technology has been featured globally through numerous outlets including “US News & World Report,” “Technology Review,” “Nature” and “Scientific American” — to name a few. The technology was also honored as the winner of the Cincinnati Innovates 2010 Taft Patent Award (first place out of 273 applicants).

His academic credentials are in engineering but one would never guess that from his personal demeanor. This is clearly an engineer with great personal skills and a flair for business.

“Oh, I’m very applied,” he says. “I love the business aspects of applying market strategy to technology. You have to establish a business case for what you’re doing. It’s also easy to get attention when people understand how something will affect their lives.”

Heikenfeld is talking to others now about how to leverage UC’s many resources to improve what he frequently refers to as UC’s “#1 product”: undergraduates.

He’s not just interested in teaching the students the technology or how to conduct research; he wants to show them the next step — how to take their technology to market. In fact, in 2009, Heikenfeld was named an IEEE S-PAC National Speaker on Entrepreneurship. In this role, he travels to various universities and IEEE groups and speak to students on the challenges and rewards of becoming an entrepreneur.

Heikenfeld wants students to experience what he calls the
Heikenfeld wants students to experience what he calls the "three legs of the stool: innovation, intellectual property and entrepreneurship.”

“We need to get students to experience what I call the ‘three legs of the stool’: innovation, intellectual property and entrepreneurship,” he says with passion.

On a personal level, he would also like to investigate possibilities between his research and the College of Medicine. “I feel there is potential there,” he says.

“I’m really happy with where my career is going,” says Heikenfeld. “It’s exciting!”

“I’m not going to invent cold fusion at UC; I’m not a future Nobel winner,” Heikenfeld says with a laugh. “With what I want to do with my life and my research, this is absolutely the best award I could get.”

WATCH: A Lab-on-a-Chip With Moveable Channels
New video: UC engineering researchers create tiny pools without walls with programmable microfluidic systems.

UC Engineer Sheds Light on Electronic Readers with IEEE Cover Story
Jason Heikenfeld compares the Kindle, iPad and the Droid in the March cover story of IEEE Spectrum. Watch a video that shows how the e-paper works!

IEEE Spectrum (online): UC’s Heikenfeld Weighs in on the iPad
University of Cincinnati’s Jason Heikenfeld tells "Spectrum," the flagship publication of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, that the iPad is another improvement in display technology, but is not going to replace the Kindle.

VIDEO: Great Research, Great Results Exhibited at UC’s Statehouse Showcase
UC research is an economic driver for Ohio. And university researchers provided state legislators with proof of that fact with hands-on displays of UC projects that are helping the state’s economy.

UC Innovation Shines at 'Cincinnati Innovates'

Six out of eight available awards were captured by University of Cincinnati students, alums, faculty at prestigious Cincinnati innovation contest.


Virtual Research Tour: Liquids Combine with Light

Make Brighter, Full-Color Electronic Readers? — Brilliant!
Electrofluidic Display Technology developed at the University of Cincinnati puts electronic book readers ahead by a wide margin.

Signs of Things to Come in Display Technology
In the home of the history of signs, the University of Cincinnati and Transitions Digital Graphics unveiled the future of sign technology.

Dynamic See-Through Display Technology Sheds Light on Sign Industry

UC and Transitions Digital Graphics introduce a novel transparent and emissive signage technology/product, a major innovation and entirely new medium for architectural design.