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Polymer's Properties Could Mean Fewer Ice-related Accidents

What started out several years ago as chance favoring the prepared mind has blossomed into a licensed partnership for UTSA graduates Mark Penick '11 and Tom Hibler '10.

by Kris Rodriguez
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IceGrips leverages the unique properties of a plastic chemical polymer that Mark Penick developed while he was a UTSA doctoral student in chemistry.University of Texas at San AntonioIn April 2013, the pair signed a license agreement to launch Icegrips Inc., an Austin start-up business based on a technology that should reduce the number of accidents that occur on ice. The product, IceGrips, leverages the unique properties of a plastic chemical polymer that Penick developed while he was a University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA) doctoral student in chemistry. The polymer adds traction to footwear and winter tires.

The idea for the Icegrips product came to Penick after he slipped and fell on a piece of ice one day. He thought about what had happened and how he could make his traction better. Penick started working in the chemistry laboratory to design a molecule that would have atoms in the right places to bind to the atoms in the ice. He was able to create a prototype.

"The main source of friction is not roughness between surfaces, but when atoms on one surface attract atoms on another surface," said Penick. "When you look at the ice traction devices like cleats and tire studs, they work on surface roughness, so they are already at a disadvantage because they are using a less effective pathway to friction. Our product is designed for ice, so that when it hits the ice, it can grab at the atomic level where most of the friction occurs."

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Penick met Hibler after Hibler wrote a business plan around Penick's patent as part of a course at UTSA on entrepreneurship, taught by Cory Hallam. Hibler earned a Master of Science in Management of Technology degree and later further developed the business plan. UTSA helped Penick patent the technology.

"The entrepreneurship course was my favorite in the master's program, and it sparked my entrepreneurial drive," said Hibler. "I was fortunate to be able to team up with Mark and his patent to apply my newly learned skills. Together with our unique backgrounds and UTSA degrees, we were able to form a complete team for our venture and will be able to achieve greater things than we could individually."

Before attending UTSA, Penick worked for almost a decade in the medicinal chemistry and drug discovery industry.

The partners now are looking for investors to advance their research and help them produce more prototypes.

"Chemistry is an expensive business, and it would be very costly to build a company from scratch to develop prototypes," said Penick. "Ideally, we would like to partner with a company that already has a chemistry manufacturing facility in place."

Penick says that if IceGrips is able to secure a chemical manufacturing contract, he envisions producing several prototypes in about 18 months. He also believes glove making companies also could benefit from IceGrips.