The next time students feel as though Eastern Washington University’s grasp reaches only the furthest limits of Cheney, they should think again. The September 30, 2002 issue of Newsweek featured six new inventions selected from 300 at a tech expo in Washington, D.C., sponsored by the Office of Homeland Security.
One such product was the Prime Alert Powder Assessment test. This innovative product was created by ordinary students (who are majoring in subjects like biology, biotechnology, microbiology, etc.) from EWU.
The Genprime Company (which created the Prime Alert product) is based in Spokane and is also a part of the sprawling business economy in Spokane and vicinity. The Genprime Prime Alert team consists of seven members who are all in some way associated with Eastern (either an alumni or faculty member). Take Buck Somes for instance. He earned a bachelor’s degree in 1995 and a year later received his master’s in Biotechnology at Eastern. This team of professionals set an excellent example of not only Eastern students reaching their potential, but also creating their own potential.
Don Lightfoot, chair of the EWU Biotechnology program and Genprime founder explains, “This is a prime example of how applied research at a comprehensive university like Eastern transfers into patents and market products.”
In 1997, Lightfoot (associate professor and director of Biotechnology at EWU and Genprime director), Jim Flemming (adjunct faculty member at EWU and Genprime president), Steve McGrew (Genprime founder and director with a bachelor’s degree from Eastern) and Buck Somes combined their efforts and ideas to create a microbiology-based company.
By raising private money and gaining support from business promotion groups in Spokane such as SIRTI (Spokane Intercalation Research and Technical Institute), Genprime teamed up with Eastern to create a notably successful and advanced company.
SIRTI is only one of many organizations that combine outside support (such as a university) to create opportunities for emerging businesses. SIRTI creates a link between the university and the company so that both benefit from the gross income of the products sold.
The Genprime Company develops and markets products for fast and efficient detection of microorganisms in the food, environmental and pharmaceutical industries. Currently, the company has successfully developed and marketed products such as Prime Alert featured in Newsweek and products for managing microbial performance in fermented goods such as beer and cheese.
The Prime Alert product offers a brand new step in testing protocol for unknown white powders. For instance, Washington D.C. Fire and EMS White Powder testing protocol rely entirely on Prime Alert to determine the presence of microbes. Thus, Prime Alert gives the security system the technology to determine the difference between a harmful biological weapon like Anthrax and a harmless substance such as baking soda. With the invention of this new broad microbe test, hoaxes and false alarms will no longer pose such a hassle.
Buck Somes says, “People shouldn’t have to shut down buildings because of powdered sugar.”