NEWS: Startup Makes Waves in Earthquake Damage Prevention

L-R: Jodi Duva, VP of Cox Business Orange County; Noemi Bonessio, founder, METAseismic; and Kirsten Mangers, managing director, Chicklabs

An early-stage company that’s part of an incubator affiliated with UCI is receiving grants and accolades for its work in the emerging field of seismic metamaterials. A metamaterial is a material engineered with non-natural properties. It’s made from combining multiple elements made from composite materials, like metals or plastics.

Earthquakes are caused by seismic waves. They hit without warning and can cause extreme property damage and loss of life if they hit a dense urban area. Large-scale metamaterial shields have the potential to manipulate seismic waves and thereby mitigate the damage to buildings, according to news reports.

Buildings can be earthquake-proofed, but that engineering can only hold up so much during a large quake. Plus, existing buildings can be difficult to retrofit, especially if they’re historic buildings, according to news reports.

What’s recently being explored is the use of metamaterials to manipulate seismic waves before they strike high-density areas. This would eliminate the need to do seismic retrofitting.

METAseismic, which does not have a website yet, is developing a new class of metamaterials, with advanced vibration control properties. It uses a honeycomb-type material that the company claims can dissipate up to 90% of seismic energy during an earthquake.

It’s part of Appplied Innovation’s Wayfinder incubator. Applied Innovation is UCI’s innovation center. The company was founded by Noemi Bonessio, a structural engineer and assistant project scientist with UCI’s department of mechanical and aerospace engineering. She could not be reached for comment.

The company recently received a National Science Foundation (NSF) Small Business Innovation Research grant of $225,000 for research and development. And, it also received an NSF I-Corps grant of $50,000.

METAseismic has also racked up recent awards from Tech Coast Angels OC (TCA OC) and Cox Business.TCA is the leading source of funding to early-stage companies in SoCal and the second most active angel investor network in the U.S. in terms of funded deals.

On Wedsnedsay, METAseismic won first place at Cox Business’ fifth annual Get Started OC pitch contest at the House of Blues in Anaheim. Bonessio won $20,000 in cash, a $5,000 Cox Business technology package and a one-year mentoring package from the MasterMinds OC Startup coaching group run by entrepreneur Scott Fox.

The live pitch competition featured five finalists who were selected from more than 50 businesses that applied to pitch. Each entrepreneur was judged on product/service viability in the market, having a “unique and defensible” position, scalability, clear revenue model and overall presentation.

On April 28, METAseismic was recognized by TCA OC for being “most disruptive” at its annual celebration of entrepreneurs event, dubbed “Extreme Coaching” this year. (See more on this event here.)

“METAseismic is a breakthrough product…at a fraction of the cost of existing solutions,” said John Harbison, chairman emeritus of TCA OC. “Easily deployed, it has wide application to anything in regions prone to earthquakes.”

Bonessio founded the company in 2016 after getting a Ph.D. in structural engineering in Italy. She moved from Rome to San Diego to become a faculty member at UCSD’s Caltrans facility, which focuses on testing for earthquakes, seismic isolation and energy dissipation systems. She completed a micro MBA program at UCSD’s Rady School of Management.This is a an abbreviated MBA Course Series for UC San Diego Ph.D.s, postdocs and grad students.

She also participated in Synchrotron, a 10-week long educational incubator program housed at the USC Viterbi Startup Garage in Marina del Rey.

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