Emerging Tech, Johnson centers team up: Partnership links incubator’s startups with entrepreneurship students

Now as executive director of Indiana University’s Johnson Center for Entrepreneurship & Innovation, he has high hopes for his latest effort to introduce students to the real world of business.

The Johnson Center, based in Bloomington, opened an office earlier this month at the Indiana University Emerging Technologies Center in downtown Indianapolis. The space gives MBA students the opportunity to provide consulting services to the 22 startups at the incubator.

Unlike BSU seniors in the “spine-sweating” course who present an original business plan before a panel of professionals, IU’s MBA students will help researchers develop business plans.

“I see this as an extremely powerful partnership, and a national model,” said Kuratko, who arrived at IU in January. “This is where ideas can arise from.”

The IU Research and Technology Corp. launched the IUETC in March 2003 to transfer research from the IU Medical School laboratories to companies where the research can be turned into commercial products.

Tenant EndGenitor Technologies Inc., for instance, is close to producing stem cells from umbilical-cord blood that someday could repair the blood vessels of heart attack victims and diabetics. Drs. Mervin Yoder and David Ingram, the physicians responsible for the medical breakthrough, are researchers, however, not businessmen.

That is where the students, who will travel from Bloomington to Indianapolis once a week to lend their guidance, can make a difference, Kuratko said.

Kuratko pitched his plan in August to Dr. Craig Brater, dean of the medical school, and Mark Long, president and CEO of the IUETC. Both supported the proposal.

Long said his center on West 10th Street near the Central Canal has invited students to assist on projects before, but not to the extent Kuratko proposed.

“Most of these people are scientists who have never written a business plan and don’t understand the aspects,” Long said. “They really want to be doing the research. Any help they can get in doing that will be very graciously received.”

Kuratko, Brater and Long recruited Dr. Robert McDonald to serve as the Johnson Center’s clinical director of life sciences initiatives. In that role, he will lead the consulting activities and be a “coach” to the ventures, while coordinating student participation. A former medical director at Anthem Inc., McDonald also holds an MBA degree and is a course director at the medical school.

McDonald left Anthem after the insurer merged with WellPoint Inc. last year and launched Aledo Consulting Inc., which provides health care strategies, at the IUETC. McDonald’s medical and business background made him a perfect fit for the job, Kuratko said.

“The science that is going on at the medical school is really cutting-edge stuff,” McDonald said. “I’m trying to bring resources to complement that.”

The students will start with a few projects and work from there, McDonald said. The role of the IUETC, like any incubator, is to nurture startups until they’re capable of moving out and operating on their own.

Its first tenant and graduate, The Haelen Group, left in July and now employs 45 people at its location in Gateway Plaza downtown. The firm helps companies and organizations control their health care costs by surveying employees before they file a claim.

Dr. Julie Meeks started The Haelen Group and, while at the incubator, brought graduate students in to assist with smaller projects such as market analysis, said Jim Kerr, Haelen’s vice president of business development.

“For those firms [still there], the business plans and some of the thought processes aren’t what they need to be,” he said. “To have the resources from the Center for Entrepreneurship would be huge.”

The IU Research & Technology Corp. is the entity that owns the rights to the patents that originate from university research. During fiscal 2004, it earned $8.5 million in license revenue, helped form three new businesses, and aided the issuance of 12 patents.

A few of the more successful patents that have come out of IU include a vaccine to prevent cervical cancer licensed to New Jersey-based Merck & Co. Inc., and the Perclose device created by Dr. Keith March of the IU School of Medicine. Suburban Chicago-based Abbott Laboratories acquired Perclose in 1999.

The technology enables physicians to more quickly close the accessed vessel and reduce the bleeding after cardiac catheterization.

IUETC supporters are optimistic similar successes await, with the students’ help.

“To create the jobs of the future, Hoosier companies need access to the highly trained work force and R&D that our universities and technology centers offer,” said Indiana’s U.S. Sen. Evan Bayh, in an e-mailed response. Bayh helped secure federal funding for the center.

“With the right resources, the high-tech startups of today can become a town’s largest employers tomorrow,” he said.

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