Alum Josh Eckman Named Entrepreneur of the Year

Josh Eckman, CEO of Carterra and department of mechanical engineering alum, has been awarded the 2022 Entrepreneur of the Year® Mountain West Award by Ernst & Young LLP. This award is given to leaders of high-growth companies based on entrepreneurial spirit, purpose, growth, impact, and other attributes. Eckman will now also be considered by a national panel of judges for a national Entrepreneur of the Year award.

In addition to degrees in Business Administration and Asian Studies, Eckman received an M.S. in Mechanical Engineering with a microfluidics focus from the University of Utah. As part of his studies professor Bruce Gale, ME department chair and Eckman’s MS advisor, discussed with Eckman the the possibility of working to commercialize some of the projects they were working on at the time..

“Josh was in my sophomore-level dynamics class and getting one of the highest scores in the class,” said Gale, “then I found out he was a business major with an interest in engineering and I was doubly impressed. I knew this was someone I needed to talk to about some of the projects we were working on.”

Eckman identified a pending-patent from Gale’s for a technology he saw potential in pursuing, a biosensor that uses microfluidic technology to analyze samples much faster than general biosensors. He and his team went on to write a business plan and submitted to the Utah Entrepreneur Challenge, which they went on to win in 2005.

This start would go on to become Carterra, a leader in high-throughput biotherapeutic discovery and characterization technology. The company’s flagship LSA platform uses high-throughput Surface Plasmon Resonance technology, which is now a standard in 17 of the largest 20 pharmaceutical companies, biotechs, CROs, and government labs. In 2020, Eli Lilly and Abcellera discovered Bamlanivimab, the world’s first COVID-19 therapeutic, using the LSA platform in a 90-day sprint.

When talking about entrepreneurship, Eckman is clear on the potential for positive impact as well as the challenges.

“Working in a small company is a unique experience that can be quite challenging and thrilling,” said Eckman. “It is not the right fit for everyone, but for those that are wired for entrepreneurial endeavors and have a reasonable threshold for risk-taking, it is a great way to leave your mark on the world.”

Eckman also offered advice to students currently in school.

“Enjoy your time in school, it goes very quickly,” said Eckman. “Get involved in various groups and clubs, try new things, meet new people, broaden your exposure to different ideas and perspectives. Your working life will generally entail focusing on niche areas. Now is the time to develop a solid foundation and build the habits of life-long learning.”

Alum Spotlight: BJ Minson (ME EN BS/MS 2013)

BJ Minson’s path to success included a fork in the road. Fortunate for many, the founder and CEO of GRIP6 Belt Company chose to simultaneously take both the right and the left roads. The road on the right would carry him toward cutting-edge mircrofluidics. The road on the left was to satisfy an itch, the kind you get when you feel something just isn’t right

(Pictured: After obsessing about Tesla for the past six years, Minson finally took delivery of his Model 3 last July. He was just a tad bit excited.)

As a master’s student, Minson was creating microfluidic chip designs and waiting for E. coli colonies to grow. But between rounds, his mind was on product design. He had an idea to use the CO2 laser in his lab to test out thin plastic belt buckle concepts. “I simply wanted a better belt, one that didn’t have holes, didn’t have a flap hanging off and wouldn’t stick out under my shirt,” he said.

Within a few weeks, the prototypes were taking shape and working well. Next, he began cutting out aluminum parts on the water-jet cutter in the advanced machine shop and giving them to friends to try out. The new buckle design worked well, and the feedback was encouraging.

After graduating with his master’s and still on his chosen career path, Minson began a job working as an engineer at Merit Sensor Systems. By day, he was designing new manufacturing techniques for high volume blood pressure sensors, and by night he was refining the design and manufacturing techniques for his new belt.

His best friend gave him $1,000 to purchase a few supplies so he could launch the belt on Kickstarter to test the viability of the product. With no marketing, the belt raised $106,000 in 30 days. When the number reached nearly 10,000 units, manufacturing them in his garage no longer seemed feasible.

“The advice I received at the time,” said Minson, “is that I would not succeed without making my products in China, but something bothered me about that. Why did so many people think it was impossible to make products domestically? Why should I have to rely on someone halfway around the world to be successful? After all, I had specifically designed the belt to be simple to both use and manufacture. After about the 10th time. someone said I would fail without China. I was determined to prove them wrong.“

Minson posing with his custom built animatronic badger on set before filming a GRIP6 commercial.
Minson posing with his custom built animatronic badger on set before filming a GRIP6 commercial.

So GRIP6 was born in his garage. Minson buckled down and got friends and family to help him for free. Over the next several months, he purchased a few small machines, made several custom machines and pumped out belts and buckles. The labor and the long hours, in addition to a full day at work, made it a truly hellish experience, he said. However, the small team delivered on their promise and shipped GRIP6 belts all over the world.

“Today,” he said, “GRIP6 is a team of about 30 full time employees including five mechanical engineers and a machinist. We do almost all of our manufacturing in-house and pride ourselves on doing things faster and better than our competitors. GRIP6 has never been in debt, never had to take out a loan and has always been profitable. At my core, I believe manufacturing is the foundation to innovation, technology and a strong economy.” ( )
Besides manufacturing and engineering, GRIP6 operates almost everything in-house including photography, marketing, video production, retail displays and animatronic badgers for commercials.
“There is a simpler, better way,” he said. “In my experience, bringing things in-house has almost always made it possible to do things simpler, faster, better and cheaper. In the next few years I hope to continue developing new products, bringing more production in-house and growing GRIP6 into a large, capable manufacturing company and a common household brand.”

BJ’s Tips For Engineering Students:

Be a project-oriented engineer. It’s critical to have a solid understanding of underlying principles, but you also have to move beyond the theory and get experience building physical things by hand. My most valuable engineers are the very diverse and adaptable type. They can’t help but work on their own projects on the side. They love learning and doing. School projects and personal projects and extremely valuable catalysts for learning and becoming valuable as an engineer.

Minson and his daughter Elyxzia at the FIRST Lego League competition held January 2018. They finished 3rd in the state competition and had a blast building robots together.
Minson and his daughter Elyxzia at the FIRST Lego League competition held January 2018. They finished 3rd in the state competition and had a blast building robots together.

Interesting things: Fun facts about BJ:

  • BJ is obsessed with anything related to Elon Musk, Tesla and SpaceX.
  • BJ coaches a small First Lego League team consisting of his daughters and nephews.
  • BJ designs and builds electric scooters with and for his kids every summer.
  • BJ cuts his own hair.
  • BJ actively encourages engineering among youth; GRIP6 held its first annual “Engineering Day” for kids last summer, and plans to expand it in 2019 and beyond.

John Nelson

I received my B.S. in Biomedical Engineering from the University of Utah in 2016 and am currently preparing for admission to an M.D./Ph.D. program. My work in Dr. Gale’s lab has generally been focused on designing and testing a device for John Nelsonchromosome purification. Such a device would enable the development of an improved intercellular chromosome transfer process.

Main Project: Chromosome Purification

For the past 40 years, geneticists have been using a microcell mediated chromosome transfer (MMCT) process to transfer chromosomes from one cell line to another. However, in many cases MMCT causes damage to chromosomal structure and base pair sequence. As a result it would be advantageous to develop an alternative method that would reduce damage to the chromosomes. One potential process involves the transfer of chromosomes into a host cell after cell lysis, however other cellular material that accompany the chromosome promote the chance of apoptosis. In order to prevent apoptosis, we are attempting to separate chromosomes from all other cellular material. This is being accomplished through the use of a size separation method known as viscoelastic focusing within a spiral channel.

Secondary project: Zebrafish genotyping

Zebrafish are a useful organism for drug screenings, toxicity testing, and developmental testing due both to quick reproduction times and low-cost maintenance. However, one limitation to their use in research has been the amount of time required to test these organisms for the presence of specific genes. Currently researchers are required to wait several weeks post fertilization before being able to obtain a tissue sample that can then be genotyped. This is a problem as much of the testing done on zebrafish is done in the first couple weeks of life. However, previous work in our lab indicates that we should be able to genotype embryos at only 24-48 hours post fertilization. We are currently designing and testing a device which will be able to automatically genotype and sort hundreds of embryos giving researchers access to valuable information before they begin testing rather than after it is finished.

Ryan Brewster

Ryan Lab WebpageI am currently working on the combined BS/MS program in mechanical engineering and have had the privilege of working in Dr Bruce Gale’s lab for the past two years. I have enjoyed working in the lab, being able to work on a variety of projects. My main current project is the development of a vascular coupling device. The goal of the project is to develop an implantable device that will reconnect blood vessels quickly and efficiently, thus saving both operating time and funds. Currently the standard practice is to suture the vessels together by hand which can be a long and tedious process. In being involved with this project, I have been privileged to work with Dr Gale in addition to Jay Agarwal (Chief of the Division of Plastic Surgery at the University of Utah School of Medicine), Jill Shea (Surgery Research Assistant Professor) and Himanshu Sant (Mechanical Engineering Research Assistant Professor), each of whom have shared their knowledge and experiences in helping and teaching me.
Another project that I am involved with is working with a team from our lab in the development of a high sensitivity pathogen detection system. This system is able to detect low levels of pathogens in a relatively short amount of time, which is very beneficial for water treatment, food processing, clean room, and marine sanitation industries. My role in the project is to work on automating the procedure to perform this procedure on its own.
One of the things that I most enjoy about working in Dr Gale’s lab is the opportunity that I have to learn. There are many tools and resources in the lab, as well as other students in the lab who are enjoyable to work with. Dr Gale also is good mentor and it is evident that he is an expert in his field. He provides great advise and direction, as well as creates an environment where engineering principles and ideas are easily achieved. I am grateful to be a member of Dr Gale’s lab.

Ameya Kantak

Project: Microscale Cyclical Electrical Field Flow Fractionation

I am studying differential electrokinetic mobility based separations of nanoparticles & biomolecules using a new technique in Field Flow Fractination (FFF) called Cyclical Electrical FFF (CyElFFF). Unlike in Normal ElFFF, in CyElFFF Gouy-Chapmann double layer is disturbed using cyclical electrical field which results in improved electrical field (from 3% to 25% and more). This advantage is utilized in separating nanoparticles/biomolecules based on their electrophoretic mobilities. My research focusses on understanding and applying this method in miniaturization of CyElFFF. So far, apart from modeling, I am successful in improving fabrication and design of micro-CyElFFF and showing basic particle separation from a binary particle mixture. An optimized micro-CyElFFF system will be a good alternative technology for electrophoresis and general sample preparation methods based on separations.

Past Project: Microscale Platelet Analyzer


Ameya S. Kantak, Bruce K. Gale , Yuri Lvov , Steven A. Jones , “Platelet Function Analyzer: Shear Activation of Platelets in Microchannels,” Biomedical Microdevices, Vol. 5, pp. 207-215, September, 2003.

Ameya S Kantak, Srinivas Merugu, Bruce K Gale, “Microfabricated Cyclical Electrical Field Flow Fractionation,” in Proc. of MicroTAS 2003, Squaw Valley, California, October 5-9, 2003.

Ameya Kantak and Bruce K. Gale, “Microscale Cyclical Electrical Field Flow Fractionation,” in Proc. Of the 11th International Symposium on Field Flow Fractionation, Cleveland, OH, October 7-10, 2003.

Ameya Kantak, Himanshu Sant, Bruce K. Gale, David K. Mills, Yuri Lvov, and Steve Jones, “A Microfabricated Platelet Analyzer,” in Proc. Smalltalk 2001, San Diego, CA, August 27-31, 2001.

Richard Eich

I earned my BS in Electronics Engineering Technology from BYU in 2002. I am currently pursuing my MS in Bioengineering. I am working on a project where we will be creating a micro-scale DNA extraction/amplification device. The goal is to perform PCR directly on a nanoporous filtering membrane in order to reduce the number of steps involved in DNA amplification and detection and thus reduce the time and cost involved. My main area of focus in this project is providing a heating method to perform rapid thermal cycling in the PCR process.


Jungkyu Kim

Jungkyu Kim has a biomedical engineering background and is now pursuing Ph.D. in mechanical engineering at University of Utah . He is currently working on a project that involves the implementation of a microscale system for DNA extraction and amplification. This project use a nanoporous membrane that will be implemented in a microscale system, extract the DNA using the membrane, amplify the DNA using PCR or a similar technique, and monitor the reaction in real time using optics. All of these functions will be completed in one chamber and will be accomplished rapidly.

Email :
Web :

Sriram Natarajan

Sriram Natarajan has a BS degree in Chemical Engineering from the Indian Institute of Technology (I.I.T.), a MS degree from the University of Colorado and many years of industrial experience in MEMS. He is now pursuing a Ph.D. in Chemical Engineering. He is currently working on studying the flow patterns and optimizing a microfluidic device to deposit uniform spots of biomaterials on a substrate. This device, called a spotter array, has many advantages over current ink-jet methods that are used to produce spots for bioassays, proteomics etc. One of the goals of this research is to develop a commercially viable spotter array system. A number of companies have expressed interest in this technology.

If your organization has interests in biomaterial deposition and would like to learn more about the spotter or would like to send some samples to be tested here, please contact or

Scott Sundberg

I recently graduated from the University of Utah in Mechanical Engineering and currently I am pursuing my Ph.D. in Bioengineering.  My Current project is to develop hardware to amplify and monitor 1 – 10 nl reactions on a micro-fabricated chip that can be used for highly parallel real-time PCR and high-resolution melting analysis.  The eventual goal is to be able to perform whole genome sequencing.  More information about me and my research can be found at

Niel Crews

We are building an apparatus capable of performing a single genetic analysis in less time than a short doctor’s visit would take. Our current focus is on the DNA amplification and analysis that will be performed within the desktop instrument. We are doing the PCR in a unique way, a process that we call “Thermal Gradient PCR”. Instead of cyclically heating and cooling a vial or capillary, we just use a syringe to push the biological mixture through a small channel built into a microscope slide. By the time the fluid exits the glass channel, the number of identical DNA pieces within it has increased by nearly a billion-fold. This amplification occurs in less than 10 minutes, during which time the DNA can be analyzed with a non-invasive measurement technique, thus determining the genetic identity of the DNA being examined. We are currently able to amplify samples up to 200-bp in size directly from genomic DNA (human, bacterial, etc.).

Forthcoming articles will detail the integrated DNA analysis that we are adapting for the thermal gradient system, as well as the continuous-flow extraction and sample preparation techniques that we will be combining in this instrument. For detailed information regarding any of these methods, please direct inquiries to