Culture of collaboration at Purdue key to commercial success

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  • At its new I-Corps Site, led by Professor Matthew Lynall, Purdue University is proving that the only way forward is together. In the last four years, collaborative work with the National Science Foundation, other state institutions and external local and national commercial stakeholders and communities has led to the creation of over 100 new scientific entrepreneurial start-ups. The innovation pipeline at Purdue is thriving in this culture of collaboration.

    The National Science Foundation’s (NSF) mission statement is ‘to promote the progress of science; to advance the national health, prosperity, and welfare; to secure the national defense’. In recent years, they have been fulfilling this mission with their innovative and collaborative Innovation Corps (I-Corps) programme. The programme was set up with a view to allow scientists and engineers to extend their horizons beyond the academic and the laboratory. By helping faculty realise the commercial potential of their research, the programme accelerates the economic and societal benefits of projects that are on the cusp of making it to market. Through training in customer discovery, and with guidance from more experienced entrepreneurs, grantees are able to identify product opportunities that might otherwise have gone unnoticed. Key to the success of I-Corps is for researchers to “get out of the building” to directly engage with potential customers and other stakeholders to ensure that there is indeed a significant problem or need for which their technology can provide a robust solution.

    Key to the success of I-Corps is for researchers to “get out of the building” to directly engage with potential customers…

    Professor Matthew Lynall instructing an I-Corps programme at the Indiana Clinical and Translational Science Institute. Photo courtesy of Purdue Marketing and Media.

    A match made in heaven
    In 2015 the Purdue I-Corps Site (the Site) was established at Purdue University. A partnership between the Krannert School of Management and Purdue’s Burton Morgan Centre for Entrepreneurship, and headed by Professor Matthew Lynall, the Site is integral to the reimagining of the university’s innovation process from invention to commercialisation. With the pooled resources of the university and the NSF, the Site can provide the technical leaders of tomorrow with the skills, network and attitude to enable them to translate their science to practice and, if so driven, transform from scientists to entrepreneurs. As a land-grant university, Purdue has a commitment to contributing towards economic development in the state of Indiana. The cooperative effort between institution and national programme has led to entrepreneurial successes by faculty members that fulfil both mission statements: to advance science for the improvement of national prosperity and welfare and to contribute to local economic growth and evolution. New technology-based ventures rarely benefit only the inventor; they have the potential to improve the lives of external parties, often creating employment and economic opportunities.

    Doctoral students Dan Van Alstine and Karla Stricker work on hybrid technologies for bus and truck fleets. Photo courtesy of Purdue Marketing and Media.

    The Site has several important aims for the next few years, all of which lead towards the realisation of the overall programme and institutional goals, and all of which look towards collaborative efforts as vital to success. First, the Site will strengthen its alignment with the College of Engineering at the university, thereby increasing participation of students and faculty in I-Corps Site programmes and courses. There is enormous potential for engineer entrepreneurs in the technology sector, with possibilities for the creation and invention of products and businesses that can make a real difference locally and nationally. Secondly, the Site will increase the engagement of women entrepreneurs within the programme. By working with such organisations as Purdue’s WomenIN and The Startup Ladies in Indianapolis, the Site hopes to not just encourage more women to participate but to also develop and attract more female role models and mentors within the organisation. Whilst women participants are well represented in the Site’s programmes, it will only be with the guidance and inspiration of successful women technology entrepreneurs that women’s issues will be more effectively addressed within the programme, and women’s needs locally and nationally properly considered in the development of new technologies. Thirdly, the Site aims to introduce and support I-Corps methods in some carefully selected design courses, thereby extending its engagement from just faculty and graduate students to some undergraduate capstone design courses. The final aim over the next few years is to increase collaboration with Indiana State agencies. With the programme’s track record of business successes, the Site is now able to extend its external outreach activities and plans to align itself with the priorities of the state (the State of Indiana has announced a $1 billion investment fund for entrepreneurship and innovation to be managed through partnerships with research bodies, educational institutions, the private sector and communities). By channelling research and encouraging scholarship that matches local issues and concerns, the Site will ensure it is at the front of the queue for investment and at the forefront of the most pressing issues of the day; at the cutting edge of science.

    A problem shared
    As we have already noted, Purdue University’s partnership with the NSF and the implementation of the I-Corps programme have been an essential part of the success of so many scientific business projects. To date, Purdue’s I-Corps Site has trained over 160 teams, most of whom who have gone on to form companies and raise over a hundred million dollars in follow-on funding. Since the I-Corps Site’s inception though, further collaborations have been set up to widen engagement and opportunities.

    An aerial view of Purdue University, which celebrates its 150th anniversary in 2019. Photo courtesy of Purdue Marketing and Media.

    Building on the success of the I-Corps Site, Purdue joined with the University of Michigan and the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign in 2017 to establish the Midwest I-Corps Node. The Node supports innovation, entrepreneurship and technology commercialisation in the Midwest in collaboration with the Midwest Engineering Entrepreneurship Network (a group of 30 universities with aggregate research spending in excess of $16 billion). The aim is to leverage this research output in the lower density entrepreneurial ecosystem in the Midwest as compared to the East and West coasts of the United States. By transforming the goal of traditional university research from one of discovery into one of innovation and creation, the Node aims to boost conversation and interaction between researchers and technology stakeholders and users. By bringing together the resources and expertise from all three institutions, the Node is able to offer a broad range of programmes and services to support commercialisation of university-developed technologies. Specifically, the Node offers: courses in customer discovery; national NSF I-Corps courses; Industry Connect events in conjunction with conferences and trade shows; Research Innovation Summits in which principal academics and industry leaders can discuss opportunities for research collaborations to address complex challenges; NSF Small Business Innovation Research funding advice; and technology to market assessment courses. As a collective, the Midwest I-Corps Node can offer academic faculty the chance to find their ‘future path of purpose’ and inspire an entrepreneurial mindset in the region. As part of a national network of NSF-funded programmes and thinkers, the Node works together to address America’s need for innovation education.

    …the organisation and alignment of the innovation pipeline has inspired and leveraged an institute-wide collaborative culture.

    Students examine lab equipment in Purdue’s Polytechnic Institute, one of 10 colleges at Purdue University. Photo courtesy of Purdue Marketing and Media.

    In addition to the Midwest I-Corps Node, Purdue University has also begun collaborating with the Naval Surface Warfare Center Crane Division in Southern Indiana, jointly establishing an entrepreneurship centre to support Crane inventors. The aim of this partnership is to rethink the purposes of defence technology for commercial application, with benefits for the community outside of the university and the defence industry. By putting their heads together, the group will be able to provide both short- and long-term educational and economic opportunities for many in the local area. Other outreach activities include the Mandela Washington Fellowship programme. Annually, 25 young African leaders are hosted by the university at an institute focused on business and innovation in life science-, agricultural- and engineering-related fields. These examples are by no means the extent of the cooperative efforts at Purdue University, but go a little way to demonstrating how the organisation and alignment of the innovation pipeline has inspired and leveraged a university-wide collaborative culture.

    The “Gateway to the Future” arch greets campus visitors on the north side of campus. Photo courtesy of Purdue Marketing and Media.

    Better together
    Purdue University has a history of cooperation and integration: it was the first university to have a Women in Engineering programme; is the birthplace of the National Society of Black Engineers; is a top ten destination for Hispanic graduate students in engineering; is in the top five for female engineering graduates; and has had a 20% increase in retention of underrepresented minority students in the last decade. This considered, coupled with its land-grant mission status, it is little wonder that the institution looked to ground its evolution towards innovation education in collaborative partnerships and outreach activities. The numbers prove that this approach works; in the past four years 165 start-ups have been created, with 100 based on Purdue intellectual property. In all, 96 of these are still in operation, 86% of them are domiciled in Indiana state and together they have raised over $96 million in funding while creating hundreds of new positions. By first partnering with the NSF and setting up the Purdue I-Corps Site, and then setting its sights on engagement with interdisciplinary faculty, underrepresented groups, other institutions, national networks and commercial experts, the university has ensured its place at the top of the list of educational institutions producing first-class scientific entrepreneurs who are able to solve real-world problems.

    There are many goals for the I-Corps Site over the next few years. What are you personally looking forward to most?
    Even more gratifying than translation of research to useful products and services and formation of successful companies, is the personal transformations experienced by participants in our various programmes. The skills and perspectives that both faculty and graduate students develop have a profound impact on their approach to research as well as their ability to engage with industry to build collaborative networks to inform the incredible work that they do. The ability to talk about one’s research in ways that are relevant to potential customers and other stakeholders has a profound impact on our ability to move our ideas to impact.

    References

  • Research Objectives
    Professor Lynall oversees Purdue University’s I-Corps programme to encourage the translation of research into commercial opportunity.

    Funding
    NSF

    Collaborators

    • Suresh Garimella, PhD, Executive Vice President Research and Partnerships, Purdue’s PI for Midwest I-Corps Node
    • Nathalie Duval-Couetil, PhD, Professor in Purdue Polytechnic Institute, Co-PI for Purdue I-Corps Site and Midwest I-Corps Node
    • Brooke Beier, PhD, Executive Director, Office of Technology Commercialization, Co-PI for Purdue I-Corps Site
    • Hyowon Lee, PhD, Assistant Professor in the Weldon School of Biomedical Engineering, Co-PI for Purdue I-Corps Site
    • Jonathan Fay, PhD, Executive Director of Center for Entrepreneurship, University of Michigan, Co-PI for Midwest I-Corps Node
    • Jed Taylor, MS, Director of Operations for the Technology Entrepreneurship Center, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, Co-PI for Midwest I-Corps Node

    Bio
    Matthew is a clinical professor in the Krannert School of Management at Purdue University, PI for Purdue’s NSF I-Corps Site, and Co-PI for the Midwest I-Corps Node. Beforehand he was a partner in Ernst & Young after several years of senior management in the telecommunications and automotive industries. He is a graduate of Oxford University (Engineering and Economics) and the University of Western Ontario (MBA and PhD).

    Contact
    Matthew Lynall, Ph.D.
    Clinical Professor
    Director, Deliberate Innovation for Faculty
    Director, Purdue NSF I-Corps Site and Midwest I-Corps Node
    Krannert School of Management
    Purdue University
    100 S. Grant Street, West Lafayette, IN 47907
    USA

    E: mlynall@purdue.edu
    T: +1 765 496 6321
    W:
    W:

  • Culture of collaboration at Purdue key to commercial success

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