Indiana University President Michael McRobbie calls it "Innovate Indiana." His ambition is to corral all of IU's
strengths under one new branded initiative to boost the Hoosier economy.
Purdue University already has leveraged a similar strategy, promoted with "Go BusinessMakers!" billboards, to national acclaim. The Hoosiers hope taking a page from the Boilermakers' playbook will yield equivalent success.
But IU will be attempting to boost its business--building efforts without its highest-profile economic-development official at the helm. Mark Long, CEO of IU Research and Technology Corp. since 2002, has stepped down. Long, 53, seemed unprepared for the exit, and has no immediate plans for the future.
Long's departure, scheduled for the end of this month, shocked local high-tech leaders, who say he has done an outstanding job spearheading IU's budding efforts to transfer laboratory research to the commercial market. And they say the Emerging Technologies Center, the 5-year-old business incubator along the downtown Central Canal that Long built and managed, is a showcase for what IU can do for promising startups.
"I'm sorry to see it happen. I think he's done a really, really good job with the [incubator]. He literally took a concept and an idea and put it on the map," said David Becker, CEO of First Internet Bank of Indiana. "He's helped an awful lot of companies get off the ground."
McRobbie, a veteran IU administrator who became president in July, was not available for comment. But Bill Stephan, IU's vice president for engagement, said Long's exit stems from McRobbie's decision to centralize economic-development functions with the goal of maximizing their impact.
"We've reached a point in the evolution [of IU economic development] where we're looking to reach a little more broadly and deeply," said Stephan, Long's boss. "We have different individuals who were presiding over this activity. The president has said we need ultimately to have one organizational structure, one point office that is really responsible for developing a strategic plan and then sticking to that plan."
"If we really hit on all cylinders, we have an opportunity to do well not only for the citizens of Indiana, but for the students and faculty at Indiana University," Stephan added.
Stephan was a top deputy of former IU President Adam Herbert before joining Clarian Health in 2005. He stepped down as Clarian's senior vice president of community relations and corporate communications last summer to rejoin IU and spearhead its statewide economic development efforts.
Long has done a "yeoman's service," said Stephen Ferguson, president of IU's trustees and chairman of Bloomington-based Cook Group Inc. But he said IU's economic development vision has moved beyond technology transfer. The university wants to bring all its assets to bear on Indiana's economy--from the Kelley School of Business to the School of Medicine to the School of Public and Environmental Affairs.
The idea is to coordinate everything IU has that might aid Indiana's progress and create a single, simple point of access for businesses. The newly launched Web site www.innovate.indiana.edu is IU's first concrete step in that direction. IU also plans to spend $8 million to $10 million to build a second business incubator, this one in Bloomington.
"I think there will be more opportunities and better access to the technologies available. And there's a lot more than just technology available. There's consulting. There's information available from schools like SPEA and the business school that are also important assets that help the state," Ferguson said. "How do you access IU? Who do you call? I've got this need, what's the number? That's been an issue for some time."
IU has been moving toward Purdue's economic-development structure for years. In 2006, it hired the Chicago-based Huron Consulting Group to study higher education leaders in economic development, with a particular focus on Georgia Tech, the University of North Carolina and Purdue. IU leaders envision working collaboratively with Purdue, as well as with Ball State University, the University of Notre Dame and other Indiana schools.
"Quite frankly, there's a lot we can learn from our colleagues at Purdue, and we've already engaged them in conversation," Stephan said.
Outsiders agree Purdue has a more lustrous reputation for economic development leadership than IU. The national perception of the two schools is "light years different," said J. Michael Bowman, president of the Washington, D.C.-based Association of University Research Parks. He said Purdue is better known for research-minded faculty who want to work with startups.
"To be truthful, IU's name doesn't come up in our world very often," he said. "What are the first words that come to mind with Purdue or IU? Purdue is engineering. IU is liberal arts. I don't put them on the same page in science and technology. And as soon as you say that, you separate what's interesting for businesses, particularly technology-intense businesses."
Purdue has spent decades laying the groundwork for that national reputation, said Joe Hornett, senior vice president of the Purdue Research Foundation.
He said Purdue is on board with IU's cooperative vision. Ultimately, it could lead to Indiana's version of California's Silicon Valley or North Carolina's Research Triangle.
"It's better to be collaborators than competitors when it comes to economic development," he said. "Otherwise, we'll end up cannibalizing each other."
The Purdue Research Park has more than 150 companies and 3,000 employees. The park has 1.5 million square feet of space under roof, he said, and nearly 260,000 square feet of it is devoted to business incubation.
IU's Indianapolis incubator is 67,500 square feet. It's home to 25 high-tech startups. Seven more former tenants have "graduated" after they became strong enough to stand on their own. IU says Long is indirectly responsible for the creation of 350 high-tech jobs, with average salaries above $89,000.
Under Long's leadership, IU enjoyed huge increases in inventions, patent applications, technology-licensing deals and startup launches. He also established a network of influential attorneys, accountants and investors to mentor the aspiring entrepreneurs.
Technology leaders don't understand why IU would let such a proven economic developer go.
Ron Henriksen, who ran the IU Research & Technology Corp. for three years before Long took charge, remembers the early days of the university's tech transfer efforts a decade ago, when they were the part-time responsibility of a single attorney. He said Long has played a huge role in the growth.
"These kinds of folks are hard to find. And if they're good, it's kind of hard to get them," said Henriksen, now CEO of adult stem cell medical startup EndGenitor Technologies Inc., which is housed in IU's incubator.
Tony Armstrong, executive director in IU's Office of Engagement, will oversee day-to-day operations of the Indianapolis incubator while IU searches for Long's replacement.
Meanwhile, Long will look for a new job. He hopes to land in the Indianapolis area.
"It's time for a change, I guess. A new president, a new direction, new ideas," he said. "I think we've accomplished a lot of things. The department is certainly well staffed with a tremendous group of people, and the incubator is rock-solid, running extremely well."