Already holding a PhD in materials science engineering from Duke University, Duncan was drawn to Georgia Tech by the Technological Innovation: Generating Economic Results (TI:GER) program. A collaboration between Georgia Tech and Emory Law School, TI:GER brings together MBA, PhD and law students in the classroom and research lab to learn about the challenges of commercializing innovative technologies.
"The TI:GER program was a perfect fit for my goals," says Duncan, who'd previously been involved with a high-tech startup during his Duke University years.
His TI:GER team, Syzygy Memory Plastics, has evolved into a full-fledged company, providing Duncan with a full-time job as CEO since graduation. The company is based around shape-memory plastic technology developed by his TI:GER teammate Walter Voit, who earned his PhD in materials science engineering in 2009. Voit serves as CTO while Justin Helsby (Emory JD 2009) is COO and legal counsel.
"TI:GER teaches you how to work with people from very different backgrounds to create a company," Duncan explains. "The entire Georgia Tech MBA program was incredibly relevant to my goal of starting a technology-based business. It provided an incredible foundation in business for my career."
Duncan's company is initially employing its shape-memory plastic technology for hearing protection plugs to be used in factories and other industrial settings. Eventually the company plans to expand into other hearing-related products, including earphones, wireless Bluetooth devices, and hearing aids. The plastic used by Syzygy responds to body heat, adapting to fit perfectly into customers' ears while alleviating common comfort problems associated with many earplug products.
Business Plan Winner
Syzygy convinced experienced judges of the viability of its business concept during the 2008 Georgia Tech Business Plan Competition, in which the team won the Most Fundable Award (a $40,000 package of legal, financial, and other services presented to the team deemed most ready for the marketplace).
Since then, the company has won $650,000 in grants from the National Science Foundation as well as $150,000 in funding from Georgia Tech's VentureLab, which helps commercialize technologies developed at the Institute. Duncan says Syzygy has also attracted some private investment, and he is optimistic about additional grants.