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Home > Blog > 2009

Archive for 2009

What Makes an Intern Valuable to Business?

Posted December 9th, 2009 by admin

The other day Malcolm and I had lunch with two faculty members from Lebanon Valley College (LVC) and a Director from JPL in Harrisburg. It was an opportunity to host a casual business and academic discussion with folks  interested in the same topic. In this case, what makes a quality intern in a design/creative environment?

The pair from LVC are both energetic faculty and not afraid to try new ideas in the classroom. They are two of the three professionals involved in the Digital Communications Group at LVC. Meeting JPL’s Director gave us all a chance to hear more about what an entrepreneurial organization looks for in young talent. She was well versed in many aspects of JPL and understood the corporate culture they continue to foster.

As part of the discussion, the Director shared that JPL values students who can cross multiple departments with strong collaboration. Even better if they have cross discipline training; some expertise in both communications and graphic design, for example.  According to her business feedback though, this is rare. For their part, LVC is working on just such an endeavour inside the Digital group. Faculty from Art, Business and English are leading the effort to bring business skills into the artistic, digital, creative space.  

After years of developing a well-known, well-respected intern program, JPL has the luxury of attracting and hiring mostly seniors, and is willing to pay for top talent. It was apparent that part of this has to do not only with the candidate’s skill set but in JPL’s ability to evaluate what candidates have learned  from their successes and mistakes. What changes did the student made to a project? Why? What’s the thought process? How did they react to constructive feedback, someone who didn’t love their design? It was a valuable conversation and I credit LVC and JPL for the willingness to sit down and hash out a few ideas around the table.

Imagine what we can accomplish if more meetings like this take place: Faculty interested in hearing what the business community wants from graduates. At ITN, we’re willing to shell out a few bucks for a cheap lunch  or coffee in the spirit of helping our network members connect with business, and we plan to do more of it.

Taking an Idea from Lab to Market

Posted November 16th, 2009 by admin

On Friday, Dr Stephen Fonash spoke to a group of entrepreneurs and faculty in Harrisburg about the challenges of taking an idea from the lab to market. This is an area where he has significant experience as co-founder of two companies, NanoHorizons and Solarity, and as a key player for Penn State’s nanotechnology and materials research in “Happy Valley.”

As anyone who’s been around the start-up process knows, there are many issues. It can be even more tricky when you’re an active faculty member. The three charactor traits Fonash emphasized for survival were being tenacious, realistic, and flexible.  Tenacity gets you through the challenges and being realistic comes in handy when negotiating with investors on a company’s valuation. Flexibility enters the picture when a mangement team is hired around you, as the company grows and a founder’s percentage of ownership decreases with outside capital investment. The handling of intellectual property (IP) was another hot topic, and getting a good lawyer was a point he made more than once.

When asked about his tenure and direct involvement in NanoHorizons, Fonash shared that the level of his day-to-day involvement decreased as it became more of a product-focused company and less of an early stage, idea-generation company. For him, this equated to approximately fours years of intense engagement.

Safe to say there was a lot more to his experience than time would allow.  His battle scars are evident. Both faculty and those eyeing business ownership have much to learn from Dr Fonash. No grass grows under his feet as he continues his involvement with education, writing books, and starting other companies. As for NanoHorizons, he told us at lunch, ”Now I’m just watching my stock.”

Does it Stink, Glow or Burn?

Posted November 3rd, 2009 by admin

This is a guest post by ITN’s Faculty Liaison, Malcolm Furman

Greetings All! Over the past couple months we all have been pretty busy with the website, a few events, and meeting new people. If you haven’t yet done so, have a look at my new grant highlights page, “Mal’s Picks.” If you don’t see your particular interest in that short list, give me a call – I have a reserve in the file. 

In my travels around the region, I have renewed contact with Lebanon Valley College – meeting four professors over the summer and meeting their new Dean, Michael Green and a few more faculty for lunch. So far we have seen Chemistry and Biology faculty and recently Jennifer and I had a great meeting with the Digital Communications group. Moving south to Franklin & Marshall College, I met Curtis Hare and Claude Yoder. As it turns out, these folks comprise only a small fraction of the Chemistry talent in the ITN community. I am also working with a few faculty on Requests for Research [RFRs], a pathway to sponsored research for which our Out of Cycle Seed Assistance Grants may be particularly useful.

ITN has received referrals from industry, including Ben Franklin Technology Partners, DCED,  and from HACC. These range in purpose from heat sinks, to concrete, materials recovery to computer and electronics applications, and maybe a power plant. I am encouraged by the alternative fuels work being done at Penn State Harrisburg and Dickinson College. There is great opportunity for collaboration among the schools for these and other projects.

The IT and computer science connections I have made so far span Shippensburg Univeristy to Millersville University. The sophistication in gaming and simulation technology in the region is commendable.  Jennifer met the guys from VGI Phila (VideoGame Growth Initiative) and they’ll be coming to meet ITN for what we hope will be a lively discussion. Call me (717.948.6455) if you want to join the meeting.

For many of our faculty I am finding links to federal grant solicitations, not only in gaming, but in materials, devices, and human factor developments. As we move forward I believe these grant programs will become important components in the commercialization process – providing sufficient resources to the project partners to reach the critical mass needed to go to market. Having spent three days at the Federal Laboratories Consortium regional meeting gave me a sense of the opportunity that exists in making those connections work. I will be writing about that in more detail later.

In addition to my activities with faculty, I’ve also met with Fred Botterbusch of MANTEC, our regional IRC. Being able to expose our faculty to the wider connections in the business community, and vice versa will be a great advantage. While I haven’t listed all of the meetings, calls and letters fielded from my cubicle over the past couple months; please know that one way or another, I have made some connection with all of the schools. I do enjoy projects that “stink, glow or burn” but I am also involved and excited about the many opportunities I find here. In addition, when I have spoken of our activities to the business community or organizations, like the FLC, there is much interest in what we are doing – and usually a request to become involved or stay informed. Until next time….

It’s Not Rocket Science, It’s About Relationships

Posted October 5th, 2009 by admin

It was unanimous, good collaboration begins not with money, an iron-clad agreement, a timeline or extensive research. It begins by developing a good fundamental relationship with a potential partner. This was one of many points bantered about by faculty and business panelists at Dickinson College, the site of ITN’s “Plug Into the Private Sector” event.

During the course of the evening’s discussion, the group shared their strategy for identifying potential partners. Brian McNew, CEO of EarthNet Energy, found his faculty partner by reaching out to his alma mater, Shippensburg University. McNew engaged one of the two faculty he’s working with as a result of his interaction with the University.

CEO, Brian McNew, of EarthNet EnergyDr Sairam of Penn State Harrisburg

Matt Steiman of Dickinson College and Dr. Sairam of Penn State Harrisburg both agreed that attending national and regional industry meetings is the best way to make initial contact with potential partners. Both stressed patience and realistic expectations, in addition to, keeping in touch and nurturing the relationship. When the right opportunity presents itself, faculty then have a foundation from which to build and introduce a project.

One passionate point of disagreement across campuses is whether to share or not to share information. Hans Pfister, of Dickinson College, encouraged attendees to get their ideas out of their desks and onto the table. If faculty can test a concept with a trusted private sector partner “everyone wins,” according to Pfister. His track record supports the notion that business partners provide faculty and students with the opportunity to gain valuable insight, market input, and the ability to tweak before attempting commercialization.

Dr. Sairam of Penn State Harrisburg shared his view on collaboration with large, national entities. His private sector and start-up background has aided his negotiations with corporate partners. Defining objectives, signing non disclosures, and “sticking within the parameters of the agreement” are all part of keeping things on track in big business deals.

Despite the high powered brain cells and advanced degrees swirling the room, it was clear that all the research, published materials, and initials behind a name won’t help build successful collaborative relationships without the basic skills of flexibility, outreach, and good old-fashioned communication.

Visit the event photo gallery here: http://www.innovationtransfernetwork.org/events/photo-gallery

View the full event video: http://www.youtube.com/jhammaker09

Tech Transfer Requires a Trash Can

Posted August 25th, 2009 by admin

P&G is one of many companies who have invested in the concept of openly recruiting new ideas and talent from outside their employee talent pool. Their website, P&G Connect, asks for “game changing” products, technology and business models and beckons innovators to submit. “Connect & Develop” is their mantra.

The “Connect & Develop” concept has slowly trickled down to main street communities particularly as business owners struggle to survive the current economic climate. Our recent interaction with corporate execs and owners confirms the notion that companies of all sizes are now more open to identifying and partnering with outside entities. This new way of “thinking outside the cubicle” is opening many doors here for collaboration. At a recent meeting with one Cumberland county-based engineering firm, we learned of their 2009 initiative to accelerate innovation. The company has developed a formal ideas submission process, including screening and committees, to quickly kill or act on ideas brought forth by employees. (This also has the side benefit of energizing employees.) Once the idea is deemed to have merit, organizations like ITN can provide further due diligence to save time and speed the process. Faculty active in a chosen industry segment can be identified by the ITN team and connected with the company’s project leader. (This process of identifying and connecting will be further accelerated in September, when ITN’s online Enclave community launches.) The ability to support a product or market launch with third party research offers companies ammunition to run the concept “up the flag pole” and seek the CFO’s blessing.

In addition to corporate meetings, we’re also talking with organizations like MANTEC, whose hot-button is helping manufacturers and other companies innovate and drive top line growth. ITN can sift through the faculty at local colleges and universities, find pockets of expertise, and identify willing and available candidates for a specific project. From there, it can be as easy as hosting a lunch discussion to see if the project has potential. For company project managers, interaction with researchers and experts outside the business offers a new perspective and perhaps different ways of looking at a product or process. On the flip side, it also helps the faculty understand that when you move from theory to practice, many other factors come into play – financial, market timing, employee motivation, customer demands.

In other meetings, Managing Director Asher Epstein of the University of Maryland’s Dingman Center for Entrepreneurship, shared a few of his lessons learned with me. One such lesson includes figuring out how to get faculty/students and industry (which includes both investors and business owners) together as quickly as possible in the idea generation process. From his perspective (and the Center’s 23 years of experience) the faster research and ideas meet real-world obstacles and opportunities, the sooner all parties can determine the viability of a project and move it to execution, or the trash can.

The Front Door to Faculty and Funding

Posted August 6th, 2009 by jjh27

With a full contingent on board, including the arrival of Malcolm Furman our Faculty Liaison, we are fielding requests on multiple fronts. Certainly energy is the hot topic of the day and projects between firms like EarthNet Energy in Chambersburg, Shippensburg University and Dickinson College are in the works to enhance the efficiency and affordability of solar power. Messiah College, the recipient of a DOE grant supporting research on biodiesel production and methanol recovery, is also engaged with ITN as they explore business opportunities with end-uses of glycerin. In addition to the energy-related requests, companies are hungry for software development talent in our faculty network. Not only do we review multiple seed grant applications of this nature, we continue to make connections for companies willing to fund projects internally. Multiple faculty members at Millersville’s Software Productization Center, led by former seed grant recipient Stephanie Elzer, are a great example of software development talent who regularly link with small business.  Carol Wellington, from Shippensburg, is another resource well-versed in private sector projects. She is currently involved in discussions with a Cumberland County business regarding an IT application. Market research is on the corporate radar too. Recent meetings like one with a Dauphin County company looking for research tied to product expansion in health care, are on the rise.  

Since ITN is meant to be a launch pad for commercialization, the team also works closely with our former seed grant projects to aid in identifying additional follow-on dollars, either via federal grants, the Venture Investment Forum, and/or Ben Franklin Technology PArtners.

As the region’s “front door” for making connections between faculty and business, ITN is in position to tackle outreach and work with other high profile groups with similar interests. The Green Center, in partnership with HACC’s Midtown campus, and ITN are in discussion on how best to work together and leverage our resources. The Center is led by Jill Gaito, Executive Director, and supported by Doug Neidich, a well-respected entrepreneur and business owner.  Gannett Fleming, with local offices in Camp Hill, is taking a leading role in innovation with the appointment of Art Hoffmann to run their corporate Innovation Center.

While there is no shortage of activity and enthusiasm, the task at hand is to deliver demonstrable results by way of commercialized products, business expansion and growth.  No small chore, but we are up to the challenge. Join the discussion and post your comments and suggestions here.

Campus Collaborations Grab the Spotlight

Posted July 28th, 2009 by jjh27

The effort to launch our local online community (September) for faculty and business seems to be arriving at the right time as the whole collaboration concept appears to be picking up steam in the national media. Maybe small business is realizing the ivory towers of research and the halls of academia aren’t so bad after all? Or maybe a new generation of faculty are realizing how valuable it is to their teaching, students, and personal growth to engage the corporate sector? Probably a little of both. Either way, the good news is the business sector is coming back around for another look at how to engage campus talent to accelerate their product development and spark innovation.  The more outgoing and entrepreneurial (not to mention smart) faculty seem to be getting their due.

On the media front, The New York Times’ Sunday Entrepreneurial Edge, highlighted an example of collaboration taking place in nanotech.  Quotes like, “The universities have been essential in this development process” and “Being able to use the core facilities of the university couldn’t help but accelerate our progress”  underscore the benefits of a group hug between small business and academia. It’s not without challenges in coordinating business objectives and deadlines with course work and existing faculty projects, however, it can be worth the effort.  

Here at ITN, we’ve seen a steady increase from both small and mid-sized businesses looking for assistance with market research, software and IT development, as well as the need for very specific product development expertise. The fact that our unique approach combines 13 colleges and universities together to act as a “front door” to access faculty, makes it easier for regional business owners to identify expertise.

In other media coverage, the Times published a recent article aptly named, The Tour d’ Admission, featuring high school counselors who arrived at Franklin & Marshall College and Elizabethtown College during what has become their annual summer bike tour.  Mediabistro, an online media outlet, experienced a flurry of activity on Twitter last week when they attracted comments from students and faculty on the use - or lack of - of social media across campuses.

In this economic crunch a great deal of homework is being done on how to impact the bottom line, attract affordable expertise, and reach out to campuses for a combination of both. The media, both social and traditional, is taking notes.

(Side note - We decided to launch this blog prior to the new ITN site launch because there is so much activity taking place. Once the site does launch, we’ll post the new url on this blog so you can bookmark the blog’s permanent page and stay in the loop with us.)

Lights, camera…faculty!

Posted June 24th, 2009 by jjh27

The International headquarters of the Innovation Transfer Network is about to be revealed. It’s not in London or Paris, it is in Harrisburg, Pa on Seventh Street. Some might call our digs at East Gate modest. The accomplishment isn’t really the location, it’s the fact that an organization focused on bringing faculty and business together is jumping head first into the interactive media world.

With well over 40 projects funded, we felt it was time to tell the story, literally. Photostreams are already posted, along with video of an entertaining and informative session by Inc. magazine’s Norm Brodsky. Soon we’ll begin loading clips of the team, funded projects, interesting faculty work and lively private sector companies engaged with our network of colleges and universities.

As the clock winds down to the new site launch our equipment is charging and the team is running for cover from the video camera. (They can run but they can’t hide!)

Stay tuned. In the meantime, if you’d like to check out a few ITN photos, here’s a preview.