PFI Kick-off Includes MEMs on Innovation Teams to Commercialize Research

Five faculty members have won awards from CWRU's Partnership for Innovation (PFI) program, "Enhancing Biotech Translational Research among NE Ohio Institutions." These awards will provide technical and business support to transition their medical device projects across "The Valley of Death" from research to commercialization, and five MEM students will serve as Marketing Directors to help guide them to success in their journeys.

  Quinn Tian               Ami Teli                Harry Oppenheim  Naman Verma          Pai Fong Kao

PFI, which secured a three-year National Science Foundation (NSF) grant last summer, selected the five projects from Innovation Project Proposals submitted June 1, and kicked off the first group of Innovation Teams August 15.

PFI is a groundbreaking partnership for regional innovation that could serve as a blueprint for economic development nationwide. It seeks to construct a relationship among a research university, a community college technology-based economic development organizations, and the broader business community with complementary interests and capabilities to develop new enterprises that will create high-tech jobs in the region and provide workers with the skills required to fill them. The effort to obtain the grant was led by the Department of Biomedical Engineering (BME) in Case's School of Engineering, the Coulter-Case Translational Research Partnership within BME, and NorTech. The PFI team also includes lead sub-awardee Lorain County Community College's (LCCC) Nord Advanced Technology Center and Allied Health Program; JumpStart's Tech Lift (sub-awardee), TiME, and the Great Lakes Innovation and Development Enterprise (GLIDE).

Dr. Jeffrey Duerk, Chairman of CWRU's Department of Biomedical Engineering and Principal Investigator (PI) for the PFI, explains, “The CWRU School of Engineering and BME department have great experience in moving technologies from conceptualization to deployment, using a variety of methodologies, including those gained from our Case-Coulter Translational Research Partnership that has been active for the past four years. The PFI builds on the use of business development leaders, local VC and angels and other potential future stakeholders in project selection.”

"Before being selected for the PFI program, each technology was just a project of a faculty member," says Dr. Alexis Abramson, CWRU associate professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering and Co-Principal Investigator (Co-PI) who's managing PFI. "By the kick-off, full Innovation Teams comprised of an array of people with relevant business and technical expertise were in place to help accelerate technologies into the realm of commercialization."

The PFI projects include:

Collagen Nanofiber Scaffold for Wound Healing and Regeneration: Small Animal Model Validation – Dr. Gary Wnek, PI; Quinn Tian, MEM Commercialization Associate (CA)

Catheter-based Intra-cardiac OCT Imaging to Improve RFA Therapy of Cardiac Arrhymias – Dr. Andrew Rollins, PI; Pai Fong Kao, MEM CA

Cyclodextrin-based Polymer Coatings for the Slow and Sustained Release of  Therapeutics – Dr.Horst von Recum, PI; Ami Teli, MEM CA

Single/Multiple Applied Receptor Technology for EndoTracheal Tubes: SMART-ETT – Dr. James Rowbottom, PI; Harry Oppenheim, MEM CA

Development of a Non-contact ECG Sensor – Dr. Xiong (Bill) Yu, PI; Naman Verma, MEM CA

“One of the amazing things about CWRU’s research is its diversity as evident by the projects selected. Our mission now is to convert the research and discovery engine into an economic development one as well,” Jeff says.

Each project will involve an external "team leader," an experienced entrepreneur-in-residence type who will provide overarching guidance to the Innovation Team. MEM CAs James, Naman, Quinn, Harry, and Ami will provide marketing and business assistance, and will be mentored throughout the year by Laura Marshall, Senior Business Director of Industrial Education Programs and Entrepreneurial Projects, who serves as the PFI Relationship Manager for CRWU. The MEMs will be working with LCCC students and faculty who may perform necessary prototyping work and/or act in the role of "product specialists," who are users of the proposed technologies, leveraging the talent and extensive facilities of that institution. The manufacturing and health services students will be guided by LCCC's Relationship Manager, Erin Corwin. “LCCC students will apply their education in an entrepreneurial setting to understand how their skills fit within a cross-functional team,” says Kelly Zelesnik, LCCC Academic Dean, Engineering Technologies and Nord Advanced Technologies Center. The MEMs also will conduct marketing research that could adjust proof of concept experiments, which will be conducted by Case engineering students. By the end of the year, the MEMs will produce complete commercialization plans for their innovation projects.

Disciplined approach

Each Innovation Team's 12-month work plans include needs assessments and budgets. Tasks are defined and assigned to team members, and progress will be measured against milestone schedules developed for each business' goals and situation. Milestones include both technical and business aspects, and performance will be reviewed after six months by PFI's Oversight Board. "The board could choose to pull funding if the milestones aren't met," Alexis notes. "We expect operations to be run similar to a regular company."

Alexis says that the MEMs' marketing research and the feedback from LCCC health science students are very important at the early stage of these research projects and may influence the technologies or change what proof of concept experiments are needed. Findings on market sizes and customer needs may require adapting technologies to different applications. LCCC's input on manufacturing viability will also be critical to success. “Our students will learn how important requirements definition is to successful product development and how it drives the design process,” Kelly adds.

After 12 months, each company must have a completed commercialization plan that includes preliminary data and a market analysis that demonstrate a viable product and market, as well as a strategy to move forward. Next steps might include:

    * Go/no-go decisions
    * SBIR grants
    * STTR grants
    * Great Lakes Innovation and Development Enterprise (GLIDE) involvement
    * Patent applications
    * License agreements
    * Ohio Third Frontier grants

"One of our metrics is follow-on funding—particularly grants for commercial applications rather than traditional NIH monies for fundamental science research," Alexis says. PFI will track the innovation projects at least through 2012, when its original NSF grant ends; however, an additional, similar grant to extend the program is pending. There will be one more round of competition for additional research projects to join PFI. The deadline for faculty proposals is June 1, 2011.

PFI is also expected to serve as a catalyst to move CWRU faculty members along a path toward awareness of commercial applications for their research. In addition to following the companies' evolution, Alexis says they will survey whether faculty view their roles as changing or change their views of research. "We'll be looking to see if PFI affects culture change that results in their thinking more entrepreneurially or initiating research that's more relevant to the marketplace."