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Ohio technology grants given OK; area collects just 1

COLUMBUS - Three weeks after they were yanked from consideration amid questions about the application process, 16 technology grants valued at $14.1 million easily won state approval yesterday.

An in-house review by the Ohio Department of Development of its Technology Action Grant judging process did not result in any changes in the department's recommendations for approval.

“The selection process was appropriate and above-board in all respects. We're comfortable with that,” said Tom Johnston, Development's chief financial officer. The Ohio Controlling Board approved the expenditure with a single negative vote.

Just one grant was awarded in northwest Ohio. Eighty-two percent of the money went to companies and institutions in Columbus, Cleveland, and Cincinnati.

Toledo's EISC, Inc., a nonprofit research and development center, will use a $327,000 grant to try to sow the seeds of a “neutraceutical” industry in the region. The money will be used to research the use of healthy food additives such as ginseng, berry extracts, herbs, and other nonpharmaceuticals.

The state received 153 applications for $125 million. The Batelle Memorial Institute in Columbus won $2.15 million, 15 percent of the pot, for two initiatives.

One grant for nearly $1.6 million will go a Chicago-based company, Quark Biotech, Inc., for a gene-based pharmaceutical project at the Cleveland Clinic. The company plans to relocate to Ohio.

“The department led us to believe that small private companies were encouraged to apply and would be prime candidates,” said Paul Gandola, a suburban Cleveland lawyer who had submitted an unsuccessful $215,000 application.

“It turns out there was a corresponding philosophy that they really wanted to fund big projects with big sponsors and big research,” he said. “There are a lot of small companies out there who feel, not that we were deceived, but that we wasted a lot of time and effort in a process that was basically meant to fund large established institutions.”

The scarcity of northwest Ohio winners, despite 11 applications from the region, prompted losing applicants to question the fact that some grant recipients were on the review teams. Mr. Johnston said those reviewers were not involved in judging their own applications.

Julian Gravino, EISC president, was among the reviewers. He said he avoided any role in drafting EISC's successful application and never saw it as a reviewer.

“I reviewed applications from other parts of the state,” he said. “We had a really comprehensive scoring system. Was it relative to the needs of the state? What was the probability of success, the ability to create jobs and companies, the ability to go on beyond just this start-up money and sustain itself?”

He noted EISC submitted an unsuccessful application to explore the use of artificial intelligence in the molding process.

“Somewhere, somehow, I don't see that this was done in the most professional manner,” said state Sen. Rhine McLin (D., Dayton), the board's sole negative vote. “These companies put in a lot of blood, sweat, and tears for grants, thinking they had a level playing field.”

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