A new partnership between Case Western Reserve University and Intwine Connect LLC represents a fresh twist to how ideas developed by university researchers are brought to the commercial market.
The agreement builds on an existing collaboration between the company and Kenneth A. Loparo, chair of the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science. It has been arranged through Case Western Reserve’s Technology Transfer Office, which helps faculty and student researchers turn inventions and other intellectual property into commercial ventures. Intwine Connect is leasing lab and office space on campus. The company also employs graduate and post-graduate engineering students to help develop technology and analyze potential new business markets.
The university’s Technology Transfer Office also takes an equity position in the company, the terms of which are undisclosed.
The agreement represents a new approach beyond merely licensing discoveries by faculty and student researchers to an established company or startup.
"Technology transfer offices nationally are trying to be more creative in how to engage industry partners," said Michael Haag, Case Western Reserve’s executive director of technology management. “What we’re really trying to do is grow a Case Western Reserve-centric enterprise.”
Intwine Connect, based in the Cleveland suburb of Chagrin Falls, develops hardware, software and services that allow consumers and businesses to monitor and manage electronics, energy use and indoor air quality through their Internet-connected devices.
Intwine Connect President and CEO Dave Martin, who earned an MBA from the university’s Weatherhead School of Management, founded the company in 2008. Martin also is a managing partner of Victory Sales, which sells semiconductors and related products and supporting services to electronics manufacturers.
The Case Western Reserve-Intwine Connect partnership agreement advances an existing relationship between Intwine Connect and research and development directed by Loparo, Nord Professor and chair of the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science (EECS) at the university. Loparo holds academic appointments in the departments of biomedical engineering and mechanical and aerospace engineering in the Case School of Engineering.
“We're spinning Intwine and its proprietary technology platform into the university,” Martin said, “and then we're going to spin out collaborative developments and an expanded team. It’s about both technology and talent. With this collaboration, we are working together to prove and optimize our technology while functionally growing a young team of top engineering and technical sales talent.”
The focus of the EECS Department on smart and connected devices and systems is a natural fit with Intwine Connect’s technology and business plan. Loparo and his research team are involved in wide-ranging research that integrates streaming sensor data with custom analytics to support autonomous control and decision-support systems with applications to energy, healthcare, and manufacturing/production.
“One of the things, from my perspective as a faculty member, is that entrepreneurship needs to occur in an environment where the students have solid technical skills and are well prepared in engineering fundamentals,” Loparo said.
“Our strong partnership with Intwine provides a unique opportunity for faculty and students to experience innovation in a new product development setting, and to learn first-hand that it’s often not just about the technology,” Loparo said. “In fact, the technology is often the easy part, and the more difficult part is managing expectations across a diverse university/industry team and the integration of the technology in a meaningful way to solve a real-world problem.”
Graduate students Jim Basar and Justin Wray are working as Intwine Connect project managers while pursing master’s degrees in physics entrepreneurship. Both were introduced to the business side of physics through the university’s Science and Technology Entrepreneurship Programs (STEP).
Two months into the STEP program, Basar met Martin and was hired as an intern, calling on customers and bringing their suggestions for new products and services back to the company.
“Early this year, I was hired as a full-time employee,” Basar said. “I am also writing my thesis for the Physics Department on Intwine technology.”
Haag said he expects the Tech Transfer Office to use the Intwine Connect arrangement as a template for similar alliances that allow business and industry to tap into the technology, innovation and bright young minds at the university.
"I haven't heard of many models like this one, a ‘spin-in’ model,” Haag said. “Graduate students are finding jobs before they even graduate. I think that's phenomenal.”