Propel Dayton already making innovation inroads

Dayton, historically, responds to the challenges of our times with innovation. It’s happening again, with a company spawned by the University of Dayton’s Propel Dayton.

Dr. Luis Estevez’s new company, Advanced and Innovative Multifunctional Materials, is developing a self-disinfecting mask, a project apropos during Covid. His success shows the importance of innovation in another way --- through partnership.

Estevez was a battery scientist at the University of Dayton Research Institute who left In January to form his materials company. He was originally focused on clean water technology but decided he also could use the science to help during Covid. So, he’s developing reusable masks that use nanoparticles to hamper the virus’s ability to infect.

Once again, Dayton sees a problem and innovates.

Losing valuable people is always difficult but, in this case, it’s also a success. While at UDRI, Estevez was part of Propel Dayton, a new program designed to foster entrepreneurialism. Estevez leaving shows the program works.

“Although we were sorry to see a researcher as talented as Luis leave UDRI, we’re also excited by his ongoing success,” Mathew Willenbrink, Director, UD Office of Technology Partnerships, said. “He and his company are a great example of why we launched Propel Dayton.”

Propel Dayton was established to help entrepreneurs spin-out companies based on technology developed at UD. Fledgling entrepreneurs need resources to grow their new ventures and Propel Dayton provides advice, help with legal agreements, and potential funding to grow these UD-based startups to profitable businesses.

“Propel Dayton has definitely lived up to its name with our company, as it’s helped AIMM not only with an avenue for transferring technology from UDRI to the commercial space but has been a continuous source of support and mentorship,” Estevez said. “From our interactions with Propel Dayton and Matt Willenbrink, it’s obvious that in regard to university-based entrepreneurship, they truly ‘get it.’ "

AIMM has already landed three grants to continue its research, including $75,000 in funding from the Med Tech Launch Fund and $45,000 from Ohio State University. The company has been named one of the startups to watch in 2021 by Launch Dayton and the Dayton Business Journal.

And that’s not all. In addition to Estevez and his team, five other teams of UD researchers are now going through Propel Dayton.

“Innovative tech start-ups are important to economic development,” Willenbrink said in a press release. “Much of Dayton’s economy was based on entrepreneurialism, and our goal is to provide opportunities and resources for local entrepreneurs to build on that legacy and create new businesses from locally grown technologies. It’s good for them and it’s good for the region.”

He continued: “We look forward to taking Propel Dayton to its fullest potential when we’re on the other side of the pandemic. At that time we will have more resources and opportunities, which will allow us to take the program even further,” Willenbrink said, adding that there are plans to eventually hold “pitch events,” a University version of Shark Tank.

Ray Marcano is the interim Ideas and Voices Editor. He can be reached at

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