Termite control first MSU Cochran Endowment beneficiary


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Posted: 12/8/2006


A company formed on the discovery of new termite-control technology by a Mississippi State researcher and two doctoral students is the first beneficiary of a university endowment promoting student entrepreneurship.

Created by MSU forest products professor Terry Amburgey and doctoral students Shane Kitchens and Kevin Ragon, TermiSys Technologies is getting a financial boost from the Thad Cochran Endowment for Entrepreneurship. The program provides awards ranging $1,000-$20,000 for business start-up ventures deemed worthy of further development.

TermiSys was founded following the trio's recent patenting of a unique termite control system that attracts termites to bait stations through the transmission of high-frequency radio waves. Traditional systems have relied on random foraging by the wood-devouring critters.

TermiSys has an exclusive license on all U.S. and international patents held by MSU related to the directive movement of termites and other social insects, Kitchens explained. He said the new company will research, develop and market the technology to the termite-control industry, with the university receiving a portion of the revenue.

"High-frequency radio waves can be used to control termite activity," explained Charles Rivenburgh, director of MSU's Office of Intellectual Property and Technology Licensing. "When used in conjunction with bait stations, the termites are attracted to the transmission area where they can be destroyed through contact with the bait."

The new endowment, administered through the office of MSU President Robert H. "Doc" Foglesong, was established in honor of Mississippi's longtime U.S. senator. It also is included in the MSU Foundation's ongoing "State of the Future" fund-raising campaign.

The entrepreneurship program is directed by instructor Gerald Nelson, also holder of the Jack Hatcher Chair in Engineering Entrepreneurship in the Bagley College of Engineering. A minimum of $3 million in private support will be sought.

"We have received gift commitments of more than $2.5 million and have good prospects for more gifts in the future," said Dennis Prescott, MSU's vice president for external affairs.

Prescott said major commitments, to date, have come from Northrop Grumman Corp., Entergy Mississippi, Mississippi Power, and General Dynamics, among others.

"MSU is successfully combining technological and human dimensions required for economic leadership," said the university's vice president for research, Colin Scanes. "The institution is committed to capitalizing the development of private technology as part of Mississippi's strategy for economic development."

A researcher in MSU's Forest and Wildlife Research Center for the past 27 years, Amburgey has developed a solid reputation as an expert in preventing the deterioration of wood structures. He heads up a cooperative, ongoing project that is seeking to solve climate-related housing construction problems endemic to the Deep South, including those posed by such insects as beetles and the ravenous Formosan subterranean termite.

Kitchens, whose research focuses on wood preservation and lumber discolorations, worked in private industry for a number of years after earning bachelor's and master's degrees in forest products from MSU, respectively, in 1993 and 1997. A Utica native, he currently is pursuing a doctorate in forest resources under Amburgey's direction.

"I come from a long line of entrepreneurs on both my mother's and father's side of my family," he said. "My goal from a very young age has been to be an entrepreneur."

A native of Marks, Ragon also is a forest resources doctoral student studying under Amburgey. He focuses his research on wood-destroying pests--particularly the biology, behavior and control of subterranean termites. He earned a bachelor's degree in environmental science and chemistry from Delta State University in 1998, and a master's in forest products from Mississippi State in 2000.

"We are trying to do everything right to make this (business venture) a success to honor the namesake of the award; for all the senator has done to promote the general welfare of Mississippi," said Ragon.

Nelson said the selection of TermiSys Technologies as the first recipient of the Cochran endowment was "a no-brainer."

"They fit the bill to a 'T'--good technology with intellectual property, good work experience, mature thinkers, world renowned faculty involvement, and a great marketing and business plan," he said. "They are a model for the future of this program."

Forest Products