By Joe Carley, director for economic development, Indiana University
In the book “The Smartest Places on Earth,” authors Antoine Van Agtmael and Fred Bakker write about the transformation of rustbelt areas into hotspots for innovation. They argue that the success of local innovation-oriented economic development efforts requires “collegial collaborations, open exchange of information, partnerships between the worlds of business and academia, multidisciplinary initiatives and ecosystems composed of an array of important players, all working closely together.”
Innovate Indiana hosted the Northeast Indiana Technology Commercialization Forum June 4 in Fort Wayne in this spirit.
In an effort to build on the impressive momentum that the northeast Indiana region has developed around innovation-led economic growth, Innovate Indiana co-hosted the forum with the Northeast Indiana Defense Industry Association.
More than 70 people attended the luncheon at the Mirro Center for Research and Innovation, which featured a presentation on analytics about the available intellectual property (IP) in Indiana and a panel discussion on how to build successful companies by commercializing IP.
In his presentation about available IP, Daniel Surwit of CPA Global identified key areas of strength within Indiana’s collective portfolio, including analytical instruments, computing/data science, energy/battery devices, image processing/visualization and microelectronics/semiconductors. How technologies in those areas could be leveraged to start or grow a technology business was discussed later by the panel.
Two panelists — Steve Gerrish, founder of Qmira and Broadband Antenna Tracking Systems, and Brian Emerick, founder of Micropulse — spoke about how trust in each other and other key leaders of their businesses has been critical to surviving the roller coaster-like ups and downs of building a startup. The two actually met years ago at an IP showcase event. Emerick ended up licensing the technology that Gerrish was marketing and used it to build Nanovis, which has generated $24 million in investments to date. Gerrish subsequently has become an advisor to Emerick and Nanovis.
Panelist Matt LaFontaine laid out the approach that Ultra Electronics USSI has used to commercialize more than 20 products. He also noted that the company is increasing interactions with universities to build partnerships and recruit students.
Tony Armstrong, president and CEO of the Indiana University Research and Technology Corp., highlighted the many organizations that have a part to play in the commercialization process and the importance of communication in coordinating their efforts.
The event yielded many more insights, but the most commonly repeated themes were around the importance of cultivating a healthy ecosystem. Startups don’t stand alone as independent entities; their success is highly dependent on their suppliers and partners.
These comments mirrored the thesis of Van Agtmael and Bakker, who identify factors such as integration of a local supply chain, collaboration at various levels, license activity of universities and spin-off and startup activity as critical indicators of a healthy innovation ecosystem. Innovate Indiana is proud to lead Indiana University’s efforts to strengthen the state’s innovation ecosystem by connecting external partners with university resources and convening programming like the Northeast Indiana Technology Commercialization Forum.