CU spinoff Mallinda lands SBIR grant, Fitzsimons lab space

BOULDER — Armed with a new $150,000 Small Business Innovation Research grant from the National Science Foundation, University of Colorado Boulder spinoff Mallinda LLC is putting the finishing touches on its move into lab space at the Fitzsimons Innovation Campus in Aurora.

The new digs will help the company continue to develop novel plastic technology that Mallinda officials believe will be used in a variety of applications, from customizable and moldable athletic gear to recyclable composite carbon fiber material that could be used in manufacturing.

The Fitzsimons campus is adjacent to CU’s Anschutz Medical Campus and provides access to university facilities. Mallinda began leasing lab space Aug. 1.

“They just make it really easy to walk in and start doing science,” Mallinda co-founder and CEO Chris Kaffer said. “We’ll stay there until we hopefully outgrow the space and have some cash to get an independent laboratory next year.”

Kaffer, who recently earned a master’s of business administration from CU-Boulder, co-founded Mallinda with Philip Taynton. Taynton, who is wrapping up his doctorate in organic chemistry and material science at CU-Boulder, developed the company’s technology as part of his graduate project. His faculty adviser, Wei Zhang, is also a co-founder of the company but is taking only an advisory role rather than an organizational one.

Kaffer and Taynton, who have recently hired one other employee, are in the process of signing a technology-transfer licensing deal with CU-Boulder.

The SBIR grant is to specifically fund the company’s efforts to make impact-resistant, moldable and re-moldable protective gear for athletics. The funding is a six-month award. Kaffer said that if Mallinda achieves certain milestones, the company would have a shot at a $750,000 Phase 2 award.

Mallinda had previously earned $200,000 in funding through grants from CU and the state’s Advanced Industry Accelerator Program. Originally aimed at developing their materials for use in prosthetics and orthotics, Mallinda’s founders quickly shifted toward athletic gear.

Kaffer said he’s had talks with athletic-equipment manufacturers who are excited about the possibilities of the Mallinda material as the demand grows for gear that can be tweaked to precisely fit individual body proportions.

“It’s the low-hanging fruit,” Kaffer said. “There’s a lot of competition in the space. But customizable athletic gear is the holy grail of the industry right now.”

In addition to the SBIR funding, Mallinda is one of 50 semifinalists in the Head Health Challenge, a joint initiative between the National Football League, GE, Under Armour and the National Institute of Standards and Technology that is seeking new materials that can be used for safety gear in sports. Up to six finalists will be awarded $250,000 each in guided funding, with one finalist earning a $500,000 grand prize.

While Mallinda’s focus right now is aimed squarely at athletic gear, Kaffer said he believes the possibilities for the company as a material manufacturer are widespread. The company’s ability to make a recyclable carbon fiber composite, he said, could help reduce costs for all kinds of manufacturers.

“Once we get some good market traction into (athletic gear), we’d like to get into some high-value spaces” like the automotive, aerospace and wind-energy industries, which all use a lot of carbon-fiber reinforced plastics.

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