Ignite ideas: Commercialize

Matt Mckillip is a man on fire. As executive director of Tech Ventures, he has a passion for commercializing ideas, which is vital to Purdue and the surrounding community. The ultimate vision is this: take great ideas, mix in support and expertise, and push the product into the marketplace. This dynamic mixture will help give new discoveries the spark they need to transform from idea to world-changing venture.

Imagine a world where ideas don’t just linger for years in an academic journal or in a lab, but within months are translated into products or services that can help solve a challenge facing millions of people.

That’s the kind of thinking that many in the College of Technology are embracing, culminating in a renewed focus on commercialization — or the process of bringing ideas to the market.  A new initiative in the college called Tech Ventures has the goal of being a catalyst that helps make ideas a reality by connecting faculty and student innovators to the product development process and business community.

Building a Knowledge Economy

Matt McKillip, executive director of Tech Ventures, says commercialization is vital to a university like Purdue and the community around it.

“Commercialization is important because it is a way we can make a visible impact with our stakeholders — administrators, alumni, legislators,” he says. “Academic papers are important, but when you see an idea making a difference, that’s a route to building a knowledge economy.”

McKillip, the former mayor of Kokomo, Ind., feels strongly that commercialization ideas can help spark new business and build up weak economies, especially in areas of Indiana that once were reliant upon manufacturing and are struggling to revitalize.

“Commercialization and product development is certainly one important piece of the puzzle for helping our economy,” he says.

Purdue has long had a reputation of attracting excellent researchers who develop unique technical solutions in many industries. It also has a strong reputation in the area of commercialization. In December 2011, the Association of University Technology Managers ranked Purdue No. 6 nationally for its commercialization successes in the 2010-2011 fiscal year. McKillip feels Purdue, and particularly the College of Technology, is a natural home from which to launch an initiative like Tech Ventures and the overall push toward entrepreneurship and commercialization.

“The College of Technology deals in near-term research, which is research that results in fast-turnaround solutions to real business problems,” he says. “Unlike other colleges, our research doesn’t take 30 years to develop, so it’s an ideal place to begin an initiative like Tech Ventures.”

McKillip says the practical nature of the focus of the College of Technology breeds ideas that are ripe for the market.

“We have a history of building things and are adept at making prototypes, so we are positioned to translate a lot of research into a tangible product,” he says.

Lonnie Bentley, faculty director of Tech Ventures, says the real-life focus of the College of Technology makes it a good base for commercialization efforts.

“The faculty we hire have significant industry experience, so they know how to take research to improve or create products that solve a particular problem,” he says. “We’re focused on applied research and less theory.”

Resources for Success


Tech Ventures will soon have a physical presence on or near campus and will strive to nurture innovation by enabling more students and faculty to commercialize their ideas and to increase the impact of the resulting technologies in the marketplace. It will focus specifically on three areas: networking, which will allow faculty and students to share ideas across campus; startup services, which will connect experienced entrepreneurs with mentors for student and faculty fledgling ventures; and securing financial support, such as assembling a team of entrepreneurs, angel investors and venture capitalists to support the idea at all stages.

Bentley, a professor of computer and information technology, says one of the main benefits of Tech Ventures will be giving faculty and students the resources — and confidence — they need to pursue their dreams of getting their idea to the marketplace.

“The idea of commercialization is not as great of a challenge for our college as it is for others,” Bentley says. “Due to the applied nature of our work, our faculty can easily identify opportunities for the marketplace. But the challenge is for them to make a leap of faith to commercialize their ideas. For that, we need to show them how it can be done and that it can involve a minimal time commitment on their part.”

Bentley feels passionate about fostering ideas in faculty that could become a commercial success. He also has experience in the area and was the recipient of the 2012 Outstanding Commercialization Award for Purdue University Faculty. In 2008, Bentley co-founded Broadband Antenna Tracking Systems (BATS), based in Indianapolis. His partners are computer and information technology associate professors Anthony Smith and Michael Kane . BATS provides enhanced electronic communications through automated antenna aiming and tracking technology for broadband directional antennas that the team co-developed. The company now has 13 full-time employees.

“Now that we have a few successes, they know where students and faculty can go if they have a question about funding, patents, the forms you have to fill out, and other procedural matters,” Bentley says. “The more successes we have, the more student and faculty anxieties or uncertainties toward commercialization will go away.”

Although Tech Ventures is most involved with information technology, McKillip and Bentley say they will assist faculty or students from any discipline who have an idea with market potential.

“Our focus right now is on IT because the time to market is much quicker, but we aren’t limited to any one signature area. It will be key for us to plug in the right mentors to work with faculty from around the university,” McKillip says. “Therefore, Tech Ventures is not a College of Technology-only initiative.”

Working with Students

Tech Ventures and the overall focus on commercialization isn’t just for faculty. Both McKillip and Bentley say that students — both undergraduate and graduate students — play an integral role in idea, concept and product development.

“Students have untapped potential in this area,” says McKillip. “They come in without any preconceived notions, and they are unbridled in their enthusiasm. It doesn’t matter that an idea has been attempted 17 times. It’s a new idea to them.”

Commercialization has the ability to unleash people’s dreams and ideas, and that really excites me. A great example of such unbridled enthusiasm is computer and information technology master’s student Parker Woods. When he was an undergraduate at Purdue, Woods (along with Joshua Hall) placed third in Purdue’s Burton D. Morgan Business Plan Competition for eXdeveloped, which is designing a product to view and analyze the eXtensible business reporting language. In 2011, Woods and Hall won first place for undergraduate student teams for the development of Battle Ground Technologies, which creates forensics products and computer services to market to military branches and law enforcement agencies. Woods is now working to share his enthusiasm of commercialization by organizing a student group focused on entrepreneurship and becoming an advocate for Tech Ventures.
Woods caught the entrepreneurship bug while attending Maconaquah High School in Peru, Ind. He started building computers in his spare time for people because he enjoyed it, then soon realized there was significant monetary potential in such ventures.

“It’s hard work, but it’s important to develop those ideas,” he says. “There are so many ideas at Purdue but it’s hard to find people to execute them. So many hit a wall, and that’s why we need communities to support entrepreneurship.”

Though he’s tight-lipped about the ideas he’s now working on, he hopes to launch his own company when completing his master’s degree in 2013.

Although encouraging faculty to try something new and launching a new initiative like Tech Ventures would seem intimidating to some, Bentley sees nothing but blue skies ahead.

“I’m optimistic. I really don’t see obstacles. I only see opportunities to get going,” he says. “Commercialization has the ability to unleash people’s dreams and ideas, and that really excites me.”

Models of success


Here are a few of the companies started by College of Technology faculty:

Broadband Antenna Tracking Systems (BATS). The Indianapolis-based company founded by Lonnie Bentley, Anthony Smith and Michael Kane provides enhanced electronic communications through automated antenna aiming and tracking technology for broadband directional antennas that the team co-developed.
DelMar Information Technologies LLC, founded by Kyle Lutes, is based in Purdue Research Park. The company consulting firm specializing in custom software development and develops its own products like the Electronic Poll Book, which simplifies and automates voter processing requirements before, during, and after an election.
Rest Assured is a Web-based telecare system based on technology that Jeff Brewer helped develop. The technology helps seniors remain in their homes and allows those with disabilities to gain more independence while staying safe. The company is based in Lafayette, Ind.
Genomic Guidance, LLC. Founded by Michael Kane, the seed-stage healthcare data-management company focuses on bringing low-cost DNA screening on the clinical level to help predict how a person is likely to respond to anticoagulants and other drugs. For more information, contact Kane at mdkane@purdue.edu

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