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Archive for 2011

Energy Keynote Sparks Interest

Posted December 6th, 2011 by admin

How do you make existing buildings more energy efficient?  Put researchers, engineers and practitioners in the same spot at the same time and force them to collaborate to transform the building industry.  This bold initiative is led by Dr. James Freihaut, Associate Professor of Architectural Engineering at The Pennsylvania State University, who currently serves as Director of the Department of Energy’s (DOE) Mid-Atlantic Clean Energy Applications Center and has been recently named Director of Operations and Technology of the DOE Greater Philadelphia Innovation Cluster (GPIC) for Energy Efficient Buildings at the Philadelphia Navy Yard.

Dr. Freihaut shared insight and career opportunities in the field of energy to faculty, students from several local universities and business professionals at an event hosted by Innovation Transfer Network at Penn State Berks.

“A 50% reduction in buildings’ energy usage would be equivalent to taking every passenger vehicle and small truck in the United States off the road.” Freihaut commented that we need to approach buying buildings the same way we buy cars.  “Before purchasing a new vehicle, people know the make, model, miles per gallon, and maintenance issues.  We need to apply those same questions to purchasing a building.  What is the heating system? How much energy does it use in a year? What type of maintenance does it need to operate efficiently? “

Solving the complex problem of making existing buildings more energy efficient isn’t rocket science.  According to Freihaut, who incidentally worked in the space industry, “It’s a helluva lot harder.”

Freihaut stated that career opportunities in energy included IT, data integration, engineering, and software development. He emphasized the greatest need is for design controls and creating the requisite algorithms.

Students from Penn State Berks reported on a collaborative project to build a solar-powered electric car charging station with business partner Jim Kurtz, Reading Electric Renewables. The next step is to install the solar panels.  The project, funded by a Seed Assistance Grant from the Greater Reading Keystone Innovation Zone, is a direct result of the effort to duplicate and expand ITN’s model in Berks County.

This event was sponsored by The Quandel Group and included a display of new energy-efficient controls manufactured by Lutron.

This blog was posted by Jennifer Leinbach, ITN Business Development Officer

Mapping, Medical Devices, and Robotics!

Posted October 27th, 2011 by admin

In October, we held our latest Engineering Forum in the Biology Department of Millersville University, courtesy of Dr. Chris Hardy - co-creator of the Wiki Plant Atlas - an online mapping and data repository currently housing over 240,000 occurrence records.

Speakers included Mike Fiorill of Digital Indigo (Lancaster PA)  He provided examples from his many years of experience in medical device and procedure simulation; and his firm also develops embedded control systems, sensor technology, and other specialized mechanical/electronic research and prototyping.

Dr. John Wright of Millersville University - Department of Applied Engineering, Safety & Technology  - described the history and current activity of their robotics and unmanned vehicles programs and the utility of semi-autonomous control systems. The Millersville contingent recently won a national robotics challenge at the Association of Technology, Management, and Applied Engineering (ATMAE) Conference’s with SAM the Semi-Autonomous Marauder. Others in the department have developed a remote control all-terrain vehicle, with potential for use in military applications.

Mr. Thomas Ciesielka, Vice President Business Development, Aplus Mobile, ESCO, and President of the Keystone Chapter of the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI) spoke on development of a  Center  of Excellence for Unmanned Vehicles in Berks County. A recent feasibility study done by Kutztown University and funded by ITN showed that such a center can be supported in the region and result in multiple economic , social, and educational benefits. As part of that effort, the Cluster for Unmanned Vehicles and Robotics (CUVR) was created.  One of the purposes of these forums is to offer a networking opportunity for faculty, businesses, and students. Attendees covered a wide range of interests, including five colleges, five businesses/organizations, and three students  and about half of these were still in conversation an hour after  the usual closing time.

Please keep an eye on our calendar of events for more information on our forum series [next will be a Biotechnology Forum at Shippensburg U. on November 18.]

View John Wright’s presentation.

View Tom Ciesielka’s presentation.

Guest post by Malcolm Furman.

Organizations Collaborate in Berks County to Assist Healthworks, Inc.

Posted September 14th, 2011 by admin

Helping entrepreneurs grow their businesses is the goal of both the Ben Franklin Technology Partners (BFTP) and Innovation Transfer Network (ITN).  When Connie Faylor, Regional Manager for BFTP of Northeastern PA, began consulting with Healthworks, Inc. - an established business preparing to launch a new innovative service - she suggested an independent market feasibility study.  When the costs for this diagnostic procedure exceeded the firm’s current budget, a potential remedy was to connect the company to a college professor willing to undertake the project as a class project.

Faylor described the conditions to ITN Business Development Officer Jennifer Leinbach, who concurred and recommended a highly qualified Kutztown University practitioner who recently tackled a similar challenging case with excellent results.  An office appointment was set with Kutztown University Business Professor Dr. Therese Maskulka and two star graduate students to review the proposed project’s complexity and scope with Healthwork’s President/CEO Sandra Wolfe-Korejwo and Marketing Officer Keith Chamberlain.  The team felt an immediate attraction and is eager to begin work.

Additionally, Leinbach connected Healthworks to leadership at Reading Area Community College to discuss the development of new training programs to address workforce development issues. 

Guest Post by Jennifer Leinbach, ITN Business Development Officer

Investors Tap into Faculty Expertise

Posted August 8th, 2011 by admin

ITN hosted its first session to introduce a select group of investors to faculty members working on interesting engineering projects ripe for commercialization. The networking event was not meant as a funding pitch, it was meant to put smart people in a room together and see what magic happens.

This was a great first cut at connecting area angel investors with the expertise that resides on local campuses. The idea behind it being that investors can learn to tap into this expertise for things like due dillegence with potential portfolio companies, and that valuable real-world exchanges can take place. In this session, faculty from network members Messiah College and Elizabethtown College presented new developments in small scale biofuels (view video), assistive technology (view video), and dielectric spectrometry (view video). Several follow-up meetings between camps have already taken place.

A few hints on making this mix work are 1) Invite investors who are open to developing relationships and engaging expertise over the long haul. Ones who get the long-term community benefits, not just a pure investment mindset. 2) Pick faculty open to a presentation review and critique. It will be edited and shortened. 3) If possible, have faculty bring along company execs who are using the product, or working closely in the development. They add a different perspective to the presentation, especially during Q&A. 4) Make it casual and offer easy networking at the end - which probably means food and beverages.

We’re scheduling the next meeting for the end of September, this time focused on IT and software development. It’s a work in progress, but we’re excited to see where it leads.

Biotech Session Plants the Seeds for Innovation

Posted July 6th, 2011 by admin

The first International ITN Biotechnology Forum was hosted by Lebanon Valley College (LVC). Speakers presented from LVC, Penn State Harrisburg (PSH), and Powell Law Associates. Researchers from the National University of Singapore and BSES Limited, formerly the Bureau of Sugar Experiment Stations, in Australia also spoke of their work involving in-vitro plant development and sugarcane species commercialization. These visitors were courtesy of Dr. Sairam Rudrabhatla - having that week been guest lecturers in the Research Experience for Undergraduates EU  (REU)program at PSH. In attendance were also the cohort of REU students and numerous PSH graduate researchers, biology and chemistry.

Below are a few highlights of the session:

Dr. Courtney M. Lappas, of Lebanon Valley College and formerly with NIH, illustrated how T cells affect inflammatory conditions and the effects that adenosine analogs can have on controlling unwanted responses. She has studied the effects that these compounds along with certain genetic factors can have on the condition. In particular, chronic granulomatous disease and graft-versus-host disease show improvements when the adenosine receptors are controlled.

Dr. Shobha Potlakayala of Penn State Harrisburg illustrated her recent work on providing blight resistance in American Chestnut. This builds on her earlier work in developing a systemic acquired resistance in plants through understanding the effects of expression of particular genes. SAR enables the plant to resist diseases like the blight by accumulating, typically, salicylic acid. Success in genetically creating SAR in Chestnut along with the ability to rapidly culture and test shoots [and then confidently grow multitudes of resistant shoots] will be a great improvement in restoring the population (with genetically pure, rather than back-crossed, specimens) over traditional methods.

Mr. Marvin Powell, former patent attorney for Pfizer Inc. and now of Powell Law Associates LLC spoke on patenting and protecting an invention, and on initial pitfalls in the path toward commercialization. Topics included: precisely defining and documenting the invention along with its history and all of its possible uses and variations; outlining the problems solved and why other solutions are less effective; anticipating how competitors might copy it and the critical features to protect. As an instructor on IP for Lincoln University, he desires to inspire the students along with faculty to bring their work (properly protected, of course) forward into the market.

Dr. Prakash Kumar studies the regulation of shoot development and plant yields at the National University of Singapore. This includes plant hormone (cytokinins and gibberellins) signaling effects on shoot development. An over twofold increase in biomass and seed yield can be obtained by introducing genetic modifications modifying the hormone signaling. These methods show promise in both food and fuel crops. The team was recently awarded a patent covering these developments: Putative Cytokinin Receptor And Methods For Use Thereof.

Prakash Lakshmanan, Program Leader Molecular Breeding at BSES, has studied salinity tolerance and water relations and currently leads the development and delivery of genetically modified (GM) sugarcane from the bench to the field. For more than a century, BSES has led research, development and extension services for Australian sugarcane production - now having 17 stations in Queensland and New South Wales. Rapidly propagating new cultivars, improving yields, better uptake of nitrogen, and extending the harvest season are among the projects underway.

Check out our entire list of forums and events, we welcome you to join the discussion!

Guest post by Malcolm Furman.

Helping Companies Build a Revenue Pipeline

Posted May 3rd, 2011 by admin

How can the concept of “innovation” be boiled down to elements that impact company revenue? ITN recently brought in manufacturing company CEO, Richard Dennis, of Die-Tech to share his strategy at the CREDC Manufacturers’ Roundtable

Dennis shared several points, but one that generated a bunch of follow-on questions was his policy that employees are evaluated and financially rewarded by how many ideas they bring to the table each month that get implemented, outside of their core area - meaning thinking outside the box. This innovative thinking could be product or systems related, didn’t matter, although Dennis pointed out that “product innovation alone is the least profitable and easiest to duplicate.”  Reducing the turnaround time in a large stamping process is worth thousands, if not millions of dollars, and requires his employees to think differently. After implementing his “ideas” expectation, Dennis’ data points to a significant increase in annualized gross margin per employee.

Dennis has similar expectations for his partners. About a year ago, he tasked our organization with pulling together a meaningful group of faculty who could discuss the current trends in health care, as it related to potential market opportunities in metal stamping. (I blogged about this in a May 2010 post.) During the roundtable, Dennis shared the results of this endeavour: The information discussed during the faculty session enabled Die-Tech to close $100,000 of revenue in the medical segment in 2010, and helped expand his pipeline to $1,000,000 in 2011.

Dennis has worked hard to develop a strong culture of innovative thinking at his metal stamping business and is constantly on the hunt for people and partners who can improve its top line growth. By linking with organizations like ITN that connect CEO’s with local, bright, minds on the college campuses,  business leaders can potentially speed market expansion and better understand how to translate innovation into customer solutions.

5 Points for Start-Ups from Boston CEO’s & Investors

Posted March 25th, 2011 by admin

In the fast-paced world of tech start-ups, one thing hasn’t changed. It’s all about people. That was the clear message communicated by company founders like Paul English, co-founder of travel site, Kayak, at the Momentum Summit on the campus of MIT this week. During his interview by venture capitalist and Harvard Entrepreneur In Residence, Jeffrey Bussgang, English made the point that he is aggressive (his word) about hiring and firing. He commits to each new hire that every seat around them “will be filled with electric people.”  Anyone who doesn’t measure up gets a pink slip. So what’s at the top of his desired skills list? Bandwidth, attitude, no dysfunctional behavior, broad experience, and no neutrals (meaning every management team member has to be excited about the candidate). If English gets a “rock star” referral, his goal is to bring them in and close the deal within seven days of the referral. People are his secret sauce to generating more revenue per each of his 130 employees. With a run rate of $200 million since their launch in 2004, this has proven to be a prime differentiator for English and his management team.

Once a small team is up an running, Ric Fulop (@ricfulop), co-founder of A123 Systems (an MIT spin out) and General Partner at North Bridge Ventures says “every developer has to be a product manager.” His point was that small teams have to be “aggressive (there’s that word again…) about locking down the first vertical…focus on the least amount of stuff possible and outsource everything!” According to Fulop, “If your first product doesn’t look like a feature, you’re doing something wrong.”

When small start-up teams meet with large partners to discuss a deal, Fulop shared a key point for CEO’s to remember, “These companies are so big, they’re like small countries. They don’t know technology, they’re politicians at the top.” Point being that a highly technology conversation will immediately be lost on the group, however, one centered on benefits and value-add will resonate.

Turning from technology to marketing, Brian Halligan, an MIT Sloan School alum/EIR, as well as co-founder of Internet marketing company, HubSpot, took the stage. He’s your typical high-energy marketing guy, fully caffeinated and passionate about content. He carried his coffee cup around as he paced the stage making his point that “success is equal to the width of your brain, not the width of your wallet.” Eighty-five of his 200 employees blog demonstrating his belief that today’s marketers are publishers. In his world, it’s all about creating a hub on the Internet of valuable content. He understands that not every blog will be a home run, but if 1/10 goes viral, it’s worth it. “Viral co-efficient” was a favorite term from his session representing the growth curve of viral content as it relates to followers, links and ultimately dollars back to the company.

Another favorite term of the day, pivot, was explained by Lee Hower, of NextView Ventures, as the nice way of saying, “near death company experience.”  As an early PayPal employee and founding member of LinkedIn who now invests in seed stage Internet companies, he’ s seen his share of pivot points. Hower interviewed the CEO of Swipely, Angus Davis, who sold his former company, TellMe, to Microsoft for a reported $800 million. Their discussion centered around the three reasons why today is a great time to open a business versus the bubble days of 1999: 1. Open source software makes it dramatically easier to develop at a reduced cost. 2. The ability to “rent” infrastructure (think: Cloud services through Amazon). 3. Access to distribution channels.

During lunch we each selected a relevant table discussion topic. There were several good ones, but in the end I chose to hear from Matt Douglas, CEO of Punchbowl. We bantered about the Top 10 business development issues.

The full session was hosted by the likable tech journalist, Scott Kirsner, writer of the Boston Globe’s Innovation Economy, whom I had the chance to meet at SXSW last year and follow on Twitter (@scottkirsner) for industry trends and interesting company innovation.

Engineers Connect & Compare Notes on Concrete, Circuits, and a Collaboratory

Posted January 18th, 2011 by admin

Recently a group of engineering faculty (and three graduate engineering students) connected at Messiah College in the first ITN Engineering Forum. These gatherings offer faculty among the ITN schools to meet informally, connect professionally, and gain understanding about the variety of innovation underway across the region. We have seen relationships arise from these, and other ITN events, resulting in research collaborations and joint efforts in pursuit of public and private sector projects. This event was also supported by the NSF-PFI (Partnerships for Innovation) grant. Below is a brief re-cap of the discussion, which is planned as a quarterly meeting.

The group was welcomed by Dr. Randy Fish, Engineering Department Chair and Professor of Engineering, who also spoke briefly on Messiah’s Collaboratory for Strategic Partnerships and Applied Research.

The first presentation was by Dr. Nathaniel E Hager, III; Research Scientist in the Physics & Engineering Dept. of Elizabethtown College. Dr. Hager uses ultrafast pulse Time-Domain-Reflectometry (TDR) to assess the cure of concrete and cementitious materials.

Dr. Aldo Morales, Co-Director of the Center for Signal Integrity at Penn State Harrisburg, spoke on the Center’s activities. “Signal integrity is the engineering field that analyzes high-speed electrical interconnects with the overall goal of improving the design, reliability, and performance of digital systems.” Karthik Balasubramanian, a graduate student in electrical engineering also presented on signal integrity and high speed interconnects.

Mike Zummo, Biodiesel Project Manager and 2006 mechanical engineering graduate at Messiah College reflected on the years that Messiah has been involved in biodiesel, both here and overseas. A small scale production biodiesel facility has been constructed and in September 2008 the U.S. Department of Energy awarded the Collaboratory a USDOE grant for nearly $500,000 for research and refining of the production process.

Dr. Harold Underwood, Associate Professor of Engineering, specializes in circuits, electromagnetics, linear systems, antennas and wireless communication systems, and RF/microwave applications. He has been working in partnership with The SymBionyx Foundation on an assistive technology for Asperger Syndrome clients, known as Wireless Enabled Remote Co-presenceTM (WERC).

Posted by Malcolm Furman, Faculty Liaison at ITN