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About Us

Dakota Research and

Consulting Organization

We are a 501(c)3 non-profit corporation that works to fulfill the unmet needs of the growing entrepreneurial and biotechnology sectors in South Dakota and the surrounding region.

We contribute towards three key components in our region’s growing entrepreneurial sector:

  1. Cost-effective services for advancing our client’s technical and business development objectives


  2. Promotion, implementation, and further development of our student professionals’ skillsets

  3. Outreach for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) education and community-centered learning opportunities based on client projects

Our business model focuses on providing cost-effective services to our industry partners, regardless of size, aiding them in making data-driven business and technical decisions.

Our assertive graduate and undergraduate student professional members are knowledgeable about the latest advances in their respective research and business areas.  DRACO members are capable of assessing recent developmental trends and applying this knowledge toward real-world solutions. Whether our clients require support when fulfilling a specific objective or advice regarding their next experimental step, we strive to provide them with data-driven services that facilitate their next strategic move.

Ultimately, DRACO aims to help bridge the gap in South Dakota by serving as a workforce developmental pipeline for upcoming professionals, aspiring entrepreneurs, and growing businesses.

“DRACO is a fantastic resource! This organization provides valuable services to USD’s Technology Transfer Office by helping to guide our inventors and technologies through relevant commercialization and development milestones. DRACO helps to provide a tailored “roadmap” for moving early-stage discoveries through technology readiness levels. The DRACO team is also an excellent source for connecting to and collaborating with a strong network of other statewide resources working to advance South Dakota innovations.”

– Beth Lambeth, USD Technology Transfer Officer

Meet Our Leadership

Eric Sandhurst Ph.D. – DRACO Co-Founder & President

Eric obtained his Ph.D. in Biomedical Engineering at the University of South Dakota. His research is focused on tissue engineering, biomaterials development, stem cell biology, and creating organoids for high-throughput drug screening. Through his research at the University of South Dakota, Eric has developed and filed for a patent for his Multifunctional Microspheres – biodegradable, porous polymer microspheres that act as a local drug delivery platform and a three-dimensional cell culture system. His academic research advisors include Dr. Hongli Sun, Dr. Kevin Francis, Dr. Dan Engebretson, and Dr. Keith Baumgarten.  Prior to pursuing his Ph.D., Eric received his B.S. in Biology and his M.S. in Biomedical Engineering from the University of South Dakota.

Before founding DRACO with his partners, Eric developed leadership skills by presiding over several student groups, such as the USD Biology Club and the USD Society for Biomaterials Student Chapter. He broadened his research skills and collaborations through a Fellowship in the USD Nanotechnology, Neuroscience, and Networking a National Science Foundation Research Trainee Program (NSF NRT). In 2019 he received the Graduate Student Leadership Award for the University of South Dakota. In 2017 he completed the Science Communication Fellowship with the South Dakota Discovery Center. His skills as an adept science communicator led to his 1st place finish in the USD 3 Minute Thesis competition in the Spring of 2020. His entrepreneurial spirit is grounded in his time as a Peace Corps volunteer in Tanzania, East Africa. The rural environment had a lack of traditional laboratory resources needed for adequately instructing high school students in chemistry, physics, and biology. This opportunity led him to find creative uses for locally available materials to teach science effectively. Through resourcefulness, creative problem solving, and by establishing partnerships throughout his region, Eric was able to create a school newspaper, a student health group, and write a nationally utilized manual for teaching science in a low-resource environment.

When he is not conducting biomedical research, establishing unique professional development opportunities for local undergraduate and graduate students, or growing the DRACO organization he enjoys spending time with his wife, Danielle, and their two delightful orange felines, Taco and Carlos! Eric enjoys spending time outdoors – hiking, camping, biking, and traveling. When he is not in the lab or exploring outside, you can usually find him experimenting on a new recipe in the kitchen! Whether over a coffee or a craft beer, he is always ready to play a game, solve a problem, listen to a story, or engage in a philosophical discussion – the more obscure the topic, the better!

Jevin Meyerink M.S.- DRACO Co-Founder & Vice President

As a Ph.D. candidate in the Biomedical Engineering Program at South Dakota School of Mines & Technology (SDSM&T), Jevin’s research involves developing and characterizing Ti-based nanoscale surfaces for orthopedic implants. His goal is to use these nanomaterials to better understand the complex relationships between nanoscale geometries and biological responses. Ultimately, the aim of his work is to improve bone-implant integration by defining this relationship. His academic research advisors include Dr. Grant Crawford, Dr. Scott Wood, Dr. Robert Anderson, and Dr. Timothy Brenza. Jevin received his B.S. in Applied Biological Sciences and M.S. in Biomedical Engineering from SDSM&T in 2015 and 2017, respectively.

Since the beginning of his graduate studies, Jevin has worked as a Graduate Research Assistant at SDSM&T and served as a Graduate Mentor to national and international students participating in the NSF Research Experiences for Undergraduates Program (NSF REU) at SDSM&T. Additionally, he offers his technical insight to many SDSM&T students performing research, training new students in proper research practices. In 2018, Jevin completed a Science Communication Fellowship through the South Dakota Discovery Center and later placed 1st in Graduate Oral Presentation at the 2019 SDSM&T Research Symposium. He thoroughly enjoys applying his technical and communicative skills to translate scientific-business concepts when working with researchers and entrepreneurs. He enjoys seeing the creative sparks fly during these conversations and believes that this type of collaborative effort is the force that drives innovative solutions.

When he is not in the lab performing research, working with future scientists & engineers to develop their technical and communicative skills, or engaged in a DRACO project, he is out on the running trails. Jevin is an avid trail runner and backpacker, spending most of his free time exploring the Black Hills or concocting a new beer formula for his next homebrew.

Thomas Vierhout M.S. – DRACO Co-Founder & Secretary

Thomas is a Pillar 2 medical student at the University of South Dakota Sanford School of Medicine. He is currently in his clinical rotations in hospitals and clinics around Sioux Falls and has an interest in pursuing surgery as a specialty. Before medical school, Thomas received his Bachelor’s in Biology from USD. He then worked as a senior laboratory technician in a microbiology lab. He then decided to apply these laboratory skills to a new field by attending graduate school. Thomas received his Master’s in Biomedical Engineering from USD for his research on cardiovascular biomaterials.

In addition to his research, Thomas has worked to improve STEM education in the community as a mentor for the Native American Healthcare Scholar’s program and as a fellow in the Lego FIRST Robotics Program. He also applied his research background to his new role in medical school by serving on the medical student research committee. For his academic work, community involvement, and leadership, Thomas was named one of the USD Alumni Association’s 30 under 30 for 2019. Thomas is a co-founder and secretary of DRACO where he uses his knowledge of biomaterials, medicine, and technology development to consult for early-stage biotechnology companies.

When he is not in clinic for medical school, studying for the next test, or working on a DRACO project with a biotechnology start-up, he is at home with his wife, Brittany, a nurse, and their three-year-old son, James. They enjoy exploring the parks and nature preserves in Sioux Falls and across the state. Thomas also enjoys playing board games and exploring new restaurants with friends. In a quiet moment at home, you will probably find him enjoying a good book and glass of bourbon.

Manaal Ali – DRACO Director Of Communications

Manaal Ali is a recent graduate of Augustana University with majors in Government & International Affairs and Sociology along with a minor in Biology.

During her time at Augustana, Manaal gained experience in communications and engagement as an intern for the nonprofit Leaders Engaged and Determined (LEAD) and later as an intern for the Zeal Center for Entrepreneurship.  She also spent time at the University of Oslo in Norway to study conflict resolution and effective dialogue skills. Before graduating, Manaal interned for a legislative affairs firm and an international affairs firm in Washington, D.C., where she had the opportunity to work directly with ambassadors, Congress members, and leaders in both the private and non-profit sectors.

Currently,  Manaal is a 2020 Billie Sutton Leadership Institute fellow and is working on a community engagement project, which combines the aesthetic of digital art with the power of social activism and storytelling.

Manaal joined DRACO earlier this year to pursue her passion for communications and community engagement; expand upon the skills she gained through her previous work experiences, and to spotlight DRACO’s important work to South Dakotans across the state.

As DRACO’s communications specialist, she is tasked with growing DRACO’s influence on social media platforms, cultivating community engagement, and fostering a passion for innovation among students.

Ty Vuong M.A. – DRACO Catalyst Project Lead

Ty holds a Master’s degree in Human Factor Psychology from the University of South Dakota (USD), where he is currently a doctoral student and adjunct instructor.  

Ty has worked in operations, strategic risk planning, and project management at Wells Fargo after graduating from USD in 2012 with a Bachelor’s in psychology. In his previous role, Ty developed and maintained strong relationships with multiple business lines, mentored banking professionals, and assisted with the development of business campaigns. 

Ty’s time at Wells Fargo — in addition to his volunteerism at Think 3D Solutions and Junior Achievement USA —  taught him the importance of community engagement and workforce development. He brings this lesson with him as a team leader for DRACO’s new initiative called Catalyst. In this capacity, Ty will expand outreach to regional universities while cultivating a statewide network of student leaders interested in student-based engineering, design, and business competitions.

Meet Our Collaborators