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Purdue hopes center simplifies commercialization

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Like all universities, Purdue University wants to derive more revenue from the research of its professors. But the West Lafayette school’s leaders think the process of matching its professors with people who can help create commercial products is too cumbersome.

So last week Purdue announced a new Innovation and Commercialization Center, which is supposed to be a one-stop shop for professors to get help developing their research into products and for outside investors to find out what research is taking place inside Purdue.

In addition, the center will have a small pool of money to make selective seed grants of about $50,000 per year to help professors test concepts, develop prototypes, find external development partners or get help doing market research.

Purdue President France Cordova said Purdue Research Foundation already has been doing many of these activities, but she thought the communication about and access to those services could be improved.

“All the different efforts that we have scattered,” she said, “you have to work awfully hard to find out that it’s there.”

Cordova even wants students to bring their ideas to the center and try to commercialize them.

The new center will operate as a subsidiary of the Purdue Research Foundation and be located in Purdue’s Burton D. Morgan Center for Entrepreneurship. It will operate during its first year with $1 million in alumni funds, and likely will ramp up to operations and investing funds of $2.5 million per year, Cordova said. She stressed that the center will receive no state funding.

The center will be run initially by Gerry McCartney, Purdue’s chief information officer. The center’s investment work likely will focus on information technology, at least at first, Cordova said, but it’s purpose is to help researchers in all areas so that Purdue has a culture that encourages professors to work on commercialization—not just on getting their research articles published in academic journals.

“Not to be forgotten is the whole cultural signal that this launches, that we care about the D as much as the R,” said Cordova, referring to research and development, which is commonly abbreviated R&D. She added, “Yes you can get promotion and tenure and you can be recognized as having an impact by focusing on the D part.”

Cordova said the Innovation and Commercialization Center would operate similarly to Purdue’s Alfred Mann Institute for Biomedical Engineering. Since being established in 2007, the Mann Institute has searched out innovative work among Purdue faculty, selectively doling out seed grants.

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