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UMBC alumni start-up receives second National Science Foundation award

RedShred, a four-year-old company at bwtech@UMBC created by UMBC graduates, was recently presented with the National Science Foundation’s highly sought-after Phase II Small Business Innovation Research Award.

UMBC’s own Jeehye Yun, ‘97, and Jim Kukla, ‘00, created RedShred in 2014, which has the goal to “[end] the need to read boring but important documents.” Their business uses “state of the art AI [artificial intelligence] and machine learning technologies to search and read documents from federal public sources.”

RedShred’s website boasts that they save more than half of the time and effort required in locating and reading through requests for proposals because of their SmartEngine AI program. After scanning the document, the program generates “at-a-glance” compilations of the material; these compilations are tailored to the user’s specifications so that they can see the information they need without ever having to open the documents.

Back in its first year of operation, RedShred won the Phase I Small Business Technology Transfer Award, providing Yun and Kukla with the funding to start their business. The award program has allotted over $1.3 million total to numerous awardees from April 2016 to date. The Phase II Award supplied the Baltimore company with the money needed to sell their products to commercial organizations. 

The Small Business Innovation Research program “enables small businesses to explore their technological potential and provides the incentive to profit from its commercialization.” Co-founder and CEO Yun said, “[w]e’re excited about this Phase II grant, which allows us to commercialize our Phase I research and development and develop new mechanisms to help people understand increasingly complicated documents.”

Facets of the SBIR’s goals include, “[to] stimulate technological innovation, meet federal research and development needs, foster and encourage participation in innovation and entrepreneurship by women and socially or economically disadvantaged persons,” and “increase private-sector commercialization of innovations from federal research and development funding.”

Research and development federal budgets that are over $100 million must allocate 3.2 percent (as of the 2017 fiscal year) of their R&D budget to SBIR programs. Participating government agencies include the Department of Agriculture, Department of Health and Human Services, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and the NSF.

Tim Finin, a UMBC computer science and electrical engineering professor, and a handful of graduate students have worked in conjunction with the start-up “to better understand how large documents, such as RFPs [Requests for Proposals], tend to be structured, even when each one is formatted differently and doesn’t follow a template.” Finin believes that the collaboration with the start-up company has been quite beneficial for UMBC students, undergraduates and graduates alike. It “gives UMBC students great opportunities to participate in both basic and applied research focused on developing an innovative commercial product,” and even gave one graduate student something to include in his Ph.D. dissertation.

The hope is that the funding “is expected to increase the quality, value, and accessibility of medical ultrasound, which would, in turn, reduce medical imaging costs in the US healthcare system,” saving the government money. On average, the United States spends approximately $9,000 per year in health care costs for each person. By making this award and others like it available, “[it] will result in cost savings to the health care system, will produce improvements in patient care, and will support a sustainable business opportunity.”