2021 - All Press Releases

HighT-Tech’s innovative approach to catalyst development wins The Spinoff Prize 2021

Start-up company’s technique to use alloys to improve catalysts or build better batteries, wins over judges at 2021 pitch slam.

London | New York | Darmstadt, 12 July 2021

The Spinoff Prize 2021, a Nature Research Award supported by Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany has been awarded to HighT-Tech, a spinoff* of The University of Maryland, College Park in the United States, for its next-generation discovery platform to address an important technical bottleneck in industrial catalyst development.

Following the pitch-slam competition against three other finalists as part of the 2021 Future Insight Days virtual event, HighT-Tech, proved itself as a company with world-class scientific foundations. The start-ups’ approach and business plan to make catalysts from combinations of cheaper metals, which would still perform the same as conventional ones, won over the 2021 judges. Their technique to use alloys addresses the technical and expensive bottleneck the sector currently faces, significantly reducing the risk of technological or commercial failure. The wide scope use of catalysts for a broad range of applications, means that in the long term, HighT-Tech’s technology could be applied to make materials for catalytic converters in cars, emission systems in power plants and a variety of chemical reactions that rely on expensive noble-metal catalysts, such as refining petroleum, therefore having a long-term sustainable impact on an important sector.

Richard Hughes, VP, Publishing, Nature Research Partnerships, said: “HighT-Tech perfectly demonstrate what The Spinoff Prize sets out to recognise - excellence in science and innovation, as well as smart entrepreneurship. The judges praised how well and how quickly the HighT-Tech team have transitioned from academic research to early-stage commercialisation. We encourage them to maintain this momentum, and look forward to their future success. On behalf of Nature Research and our judges, I congratulate HighT-Tech on their achievement.”

Ulrich Betz, Vice President Innovation, Merck, further commented: “Innovation from academic researchers and their start-up companies provides important contributions to creating a bright future – the finalist pitches were a highlight of the recent 2021 Future Insight Days.”

The Spinoff Prize was established by Nature Portfolio and Merck to showcase and celebrate global excellence in the commercialisation of research through the creation of spinoff* companies. Around 100 companies entered the competition, of which eight finalists were selected to progress, with ten additional spinoffs being commended as “ones to watch”. Each was profiled in a special Nature supplement published in June. The winner receives a cash prize of €30,000.

*The term spinoff in this case refers to a company that has been formed specifically to commercialise the outputs generated from research conducted at a university or research institute.


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About Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany

Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany, a leading science and technology company, operates across healthcare, life science and electronics. Around 58,000 employees work to make a positive difference to millions of people’s lives every day by creating more joyful and sustainable ways to live. From advancing gene editing technologies and discovering unique ways to treat the most challenging diseases to enabling the intelligence of devices – the company is everywhere. In 2020, Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany, generated sales of € 17.5 billion in 66 countries.

The company holds the global rights to the name and trademark “Merck” internationally. The only exceptions are the United States and Canada, where the business sectors of Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany operate as EMD Serono in healthcare, MilliporeSigma in life science, and EMD Electronics. Since its founding in 1668, scientific exploration and responsible entrepreneurship have been key to the company’s technological and scientific advances. To this day, the founding family remains the majority owner of the publicly listed company.


Sam Sule | Communications Officer, Corporate Affairs | Springer Nature