Cleveland State University has launched a new webpage, designed to more easily connect potential inventors and entrepreneurs with university researchers and local resources.
The CSU Innovation page aims to “streamline access to innovation” at the university, said Jerzy Sawicki, vice president for research at Cleveland State.
As the global economy becomes more competitive, Sawicki said, companies and universities both are feeling pressure to be more innovative. Companies need to increase return on investment, and universities need to seek additional funding sources as competition for federal research dollars grows.
Ultimately, jobs, technology and education are all changing, “and CSU is transforming how we collaborate to keep pace and help the region to take a leading position in all of these areas, including innovation and technology,” Sawicki said.
The new CSU Innovation page offers a searchable database of experts at the university, as well as information on partners in the region, such JumpStart and the Great Lakes Innovation and Development Enterprise. The page also highlights university resources such as the Weston Ideation Lab, the Dan T. Moore Makerspace and the Technology Transfer Office that entrepreneurs can use. And if entrepreneurs and companies aren’t sure where to turn, they can submit their technology needs to the university through the page and be connected with the best expert or resource.
The goal is to promote “economic engagement” in the region, Sawicki said, connecting students, faculty and industry.
“It basically serves as a front door that makes it easier for industry to find relevant research activity across campus and connect with us,” Sawicki said.
He added the portal could serve as an invitation to companies and entrepreneurs to engage with Cleveland State on research projects, as the university hopes to see more of that kind of collaboration.
All of the region’s public four-year institutions are engaged in similar technology transfer work to some degree, though none have yet rolled out a site like Cleveland State’s innovation portal. Kent State University plans to do so in the coming months, and the University of Akron’s technology transfer office intends to update its website, including some elements similar to Cleveland State’s new page, in the future.
Youngstown State University as yet has no plans to launch such a page, and the university has perhaps not done as much commercialization work as the other public universities in the region. But that’s poised to change. As YSU has increased its research function over the years, a focus on technology transfer is a “natural evolution,” said Michael Hripko, associate vice president for external affairs, government relations and economic development.
In recent years, Youngstown State has worked closely with nearby additive manufacturing institute America Makes and the Youngstown Business Incubator.
But the university is taking steps to do more commercialization work on its own. Last fall, Youngstown State hired an associate general counsel to focus on matters of intellectual property and technology transfer. This fall, the university will break ground on the planned Mahoning Valley Innovation and Commercialization Center, which will focus on advanced manufacturing.
Technology transfer is vital to the mission of these public universities.
“Our mission is to diffuse knowledge, and while we can file patent applications and stick them on the shelf or hang them on the wall, it’s not as meaningful as if we can take some of that knowledge and push it into markets and find customers who could use this technology in their everyday lives,” said Stephen Roberts, director of technology commercialization at Kent State.
Kent State and Cleveland State recently received a second round of funding from the Ohio Third Frontier Commission for their joint commercialization and startup fund, the TeCK Fund. The goal of the TeCK Fund is to build and test prototypes, Roberts said. It can be difficult for scientists who are used to working in a lab to find the right company to make their products. And though the process has taken longer than expected, the universities are “encouraged” by the fund, he said.
Roberts said the two universities felt they could create a stronger technology accelerator by combining forces, as opposed to working separately.
The commercialization of technology has a few benefits for universities. It can offer some financial returns, said Elyse Ball, assistant counsel and project manager at the University of Akron Research Foundation. And the connection to industry can help faculty and students ground their work to the needs of society. There’s some great research going on in Northeast Ohio, Ball said.
“And we want to see that technology better society, better the world by being able to actually be implemented,” she said. “Without the commercialization component, the technology is something cool. it’s something interesting to read about in a publication. The commercialization component is what brings that technology to everyday people.”
The University of Akron is the Northeast Ohio site for the National Science Foundation I-Corps program. Akron has been offering the program for about five years, Ball said. It connects research teams with prospective customers and end users to make sure the technology they’re looking to commercialize will solve a real problem.
The I-Corps program is available to researchers at the University of Akron, but also to teams outside of the university. The university also hopes to offer a pilot program this fall that would build off the I-Corps program. The focus would be on helping teams, from the University of Akron or otherwise, looking to develop physical products.