Mines News

Release Date Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Two Companies Started by Research at SD Mines Among “40 Best University Start-Ups of 2017”

RAPID CITY, SD (April 4, 2017) – Two start-up companies that began as research projects at the South Dakota School of Mines & Technology are being recognized among the “ 40 Best University Start-Ups of 2017.” On April 18-20 company officials travel to Washington D.C. to present their work in front of a group of corporate investors and venture capitalists. Compared to many other schools SD Mines is a relatively small university, but Mines has two start-ups being recognized among the best in the country.

“The fact that Mines has two out of 40 companies recognized nationwide this year is a real tribute to the faculty involved and the innovation culture we are continuing to build here,” said Mines President Heather Wilson. “We are very proud of these start-ups and will eagerly watch their ongoing success.”

The two start-up companies that sprung out of research at SD Mines include:


Nanopareil, LLC’s patented nanofiber technology is revolutionizing the cost and ease of manufacturing medicine, growing replacement organs and purifying water. The company’s composite nanofiber membranes and specialty treatments provide filters for separating biochemicals and viruses during the production of pharmaceuticals and vaccines. The nanofibers can also serve as a scaffold for 3D tissue growth.

Much of the production costs in the multibillion dollar pharmaceutical industry stem from the need to purify biochemicals used to manufacture medicine. But most of the materials used in this purification process were developed in the 1980s. Nanopareil’s patented nanofiber membranes revolutionize this process.  The company’s nanofiber filters can directly replace the old technology in the factory at almost no cost to manufactures. The filters can save $100 of millions of dollars annually and increase manufacturing productivity between two-four times.

Beyond the pharmaceutical manufacturing applications, the company’s 3D scaffolds uniquely replicate the extracellular matrix of many tissues. This highly advanced patent-pending combination leads to highly efficient cell functions and tissue formation, increasing cell penetration and rapid proliferation with minimal addition of growth factors.

In addition to bioseparations and biomaterials applications, Nanopareil is developing nanomaterials for low energy, high throughput water purification.

“The state of South Dakota and especially SD Mines has again proven to be a great place for innovation and entrepreneurship,” said Craig Arnold, Nanopareil’s CEO and SD Mines entrepreneur-in-residence. “This revolutionary nanofiber-based purification technology was the brainchild of Todd Menkhaus, Ph.D., and Hao Fong, Ph.D., both professors at Mines.  Menkhaus and Fong, were able to leverage their idea into a start-up company, in-part through their participation in Mines and South Dakota’s positive entrepreneurship ecosystem.” 

Nanopareil is based in Rapid City, SD. The company has received development grants from the National Science Foundation and equity investments, that have led to successful product developments with multiple nanomaterials.

VRC Metal Systems

When critical parts on a B1-Bomber wear out they can cost tens of thousands of dollars to re-manufacture. This is one area where the cold spray technology of VRC Metal Systems comes into play. The spray-on metal allows cost-effective repair of irreplaceable parts on Department of Defense weapons systems like the B1.

Cold spray was invented by the Russians during the Cold War and perfected by the U.S. Army Research Lab (ARL) in partnership with SD Mines. The company, founded in 2013, sprung out of state-funded research on spray-on metal applications lead by Christian Widener. Ph.D., at the Arbegast Advanced Materials Processing and Joining Lab (AAMP/J) located on the SD Mines campus. The technology involves metal powder sprayed at supersonic speeds resulting in layers of metal that are two to ten times stronger than conventional thermal spray coatings.

“This is a collaboration between local, state and federal entities to commercialize a new technology that is now recognized at the national level for potential widespread industry adoption and impact,” said Rob Hrabe, VRC Metal Systems president. 

At the federal level Senators John Thune and Mike Rounds as well as Representative Kristi Noem support the technology as a proven means of reducing DOD weapons systems maintenance costs. The past three 28th Bomb Wing Commanders have championed the idea and have set up their own cold spray facility at Ellsworth Air Force Base reducing maintenance costs and improving aircraft combat readiness. Moog Aircraft Group has also established a presence at the base to assist with operation of the facility.

The growth of VRC Metal Systems has also been fueled by the state Governor’s Office of Economic Development (GOED), Rapid City Economic Development Partnership as well as the city of Box Elder. VRC has acquired a highly skilled workforce of over 45 employees in just 3 years making it competitive on a national basis for high-growth technology startups that originated from university level research.

“Beyond the hundreds of millions of dollars of maintenance costs that will be saved by the DOD, the technology has widespread applications for repair of corrosion and wear in oil & gas, power plants, transportation, mining, rail, shipping and a multitude of other industries,” said Hrabe. The company is expecting to see rapid growth into the foreseeable future.


About South Dakota Mines  

Founded in 1885, South Dakota Mines is one of the nation’s leading engineering, science and technology universities. South Dakota Mines offers bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees and a best-in-class education at an affordable price. The university enrolls 2,493 students with an average class size of 24. The South Dakota Mines placement rate for graduates is 98 percent, with an average starting salary of more than $70,036. For these reasons  South Dakota Mines is ranked among the best engineering schools in the country for return on investment. Find us online at www.sdsmt.edu and on FacebookTwitter, LinkedInInstagram, and Snapchat.

Contact: Charles Michael Ray, 605-394-6082, charles.ray@sdsmt.edu