UA catalyst company earns $540,000 investment

Photo courtesy of Franchessa Sayler and Martin Bakker

Pandora White

ThruPore, a catalyst company, has recently secured $540,000 in investment funding with the possibility of a 2:1 match through the National Science Foundation (NSF) Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Program. 

CEO Franchessa Sayler and Martin Bakker, associate professor in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry co-founded ThruPore in 2011 at The University of Alabama. Sayler, then a graduate student at the University, was approached by an industrial chemist to discover a way to increase productivity of a reaction process by conducting catalysis research. Through this project, Bakker and Sayler saw the potential to market their catalyst.

Bakker and Sayler went to Alabama Innovation and Mentoring of Entrepreneurs center (AIME) to discover how to turn this concept into product.

“The support that you get from AIME is so wonderful. It’s really helpful to have them. It’s so nice to have that help early on,” Sayler said. 

In 2012, they started the NSF Innovation Corps (I-Corps) program. The I-Corps helped the company to learn the basics of entrepreneurship, officially found the company, and conduct market research. The following year, Bakker and Sayler applied for the NSF SBIR program. The SBIR program has three phases. Phase I is concept development. Teams are allotted awards up to $150,000 for 6 months. Phase II is Prototype Development where teams can be awarded up to $1 million for 2 years. Phase III is commercialization where teams become small businesses. 

ThruPore secured the $540,000 investment and through NSF SBIR in Phase II. 

“When you start a business there is risk,” Bakker said. “I-Corps and SBIR helps you with some of the risk.” 

Sayler said the University is there for all student entreupreneurs. 

“If you are interested in entrepreneurship, reach out to the UA network,” he said. “There is something available.” 

Crimson Startup is a NSF I-Corp site on campus. It has three cohorts each year. During the program, participants have the opportunity to bring ideas for starting a company or joining a startup team. For more information, visit