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Database puts 800 technology researchers in reach: Indiana Information Network hopes to link businesses with industry expertise through extensive online portal

November 14, 2005

A Web-based melting pot of intellectual resources intended to aid technology transfer to the market boasts 800 researchers in 40 fields that businesses can tap for help.

Indiana Innovation Network is an offshoot of Access Technology Across Indiana, or ATAIN, which was formed about 12 years ago as an alliance of universities, research institutions and businesses statewide.

The alliance, led by John Schneider, assistant vice president for industry research at Purdue, helps research facilities commercialize their technology.

IIN, founded by Baker & Daniels attorney Jerome McClusky, is the online portal for ATAIN. It went live six months ago.

By creating an online database of researchers in various fields, IIN hopes to provide businesses with access to individuals they might not otherwise come in contact with, McClusky said.

Researchers are tapped from Indiana, Purdue, Indiana State and Ball State universities, plus the University of Notre Dame, Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology and IUPUI.

IIN-which is funded by $100,000 it received from the Indiana Economic Development Corp.-also organizes technology forums in which ideas are exchanged in face-to-face networking sessions.

"The primary medium to accelerate technology transfer is by putting a lot of smart people in a room and letting them lead the development," said McClusky, whose primary law practice is in general corporate transactions with an emphasis on emerging growth companies.

IIN has sponsored six forums across the state so far that discussed certified technology parks, systems engineering, energy and other topics. Plans are in the works for more, although no details were available.

To help IIN put Indiana businesses in touch with state researchers and experts, the not-for-profit has recently aligned itself with a Massachusetts-based firm with a local connection.

The firm, InnoCentive, was formed four years ago by Eli Lilly and Co. as a global e-business research and development platform. About 80,000 researchers worldwide can be accessed via the Web site. Scientific problems from companies like Boeing, Dow Chemical and Lilly are posted on the site in the form of challenges. Solutions are submitted for each challenge and one is selected to receive prize money.

The IIN and InnoCentive marketing arrangement provides IIN users with access to InnoCentive's Web-based community.

And while McClusky and Schneider are passionate about the idea of bringing crossdisciplinary experts together, not everyone thinks the idea will yield big results.

How often a company will actually look to the database-when it likely employs its own researchers who already network with others-is questionable, said Mark Long, president and CEO of the Indiana University Emerging Technologies Center, an Indianapolis tech incubator.

"Most don't want to deal with a clearinghouse, but want to deal with an individual they know or through some existing relationship," Long said. "A great many of these types of deals are done on a personal level. A passive marketing tool is not as successful as active, personal marketing."

Or businesses with an idea will go directly to the university, where they know the wealth of ideas and resources reside.

"Many just go straight to Purdue, Ball State or whoever owns the intellectual property," Long said.

In fact, many research universities like Purdue and IU have their own commercialization efforts.

But a university's bevy of talent is often limited to the laboratory; it can't always relate to the outside world well, Schneider said. So IIN's mission is less about actually commercializing a technology and more about fostering greater collaboration among universities and between university researchers and industry.

"Schools have not always been good at communicating and working together," Schneider said. "It was their egos." Universities are also not good at making themselves accessible as a resource to industry, Schneider said. "We're too busy, too big. We evolve, we don't plan," he said. "The key is to make university resources available with onestop shopping." One-stop shopping for researchers has been tried before, Long said. "Other states have tried this type of statewide research clearinghouse and over time have abandoned it," he said.

Part of the problem is keeping the database up to date, he said. Researchers who have been asked and given permission to be listed in the IIN database are charged with keeping their profiles updated.

"That hasn't proven to be the most effective tool," because that type of upkeep is not high on a researcher's list of priorities, Schneider said.

Others are a bit more optimistic about IIN's chances for success, but still hesitant. "I see some benefits, but also some potential pitfalls," said Cameron Carter, president and CEO of Techpoint, a statewide technology trade group.

IIN's method of building a database of researchers may not be the best way to get technology to the market, Carter said.

Researchers may use it as a way to tap the brains of others doing similar work, but it's not likely companies with a product to license will, he said.

And the distinction between IIN and its parent, ATAIN, may not be enough to allow an offshoot to survive.

"It remains to be seen if events will bear some fruit," Carter said. "But I'm a halfempty-glass kind of guy."

McClusky doesn't think there's duplication of effort between IIN and ATAIN or between IIN and commercialization efforts within universities because his efforts are focused on encouraging dialogue.

"Researchers are the cooks; we stir the stew and the research licensing offices will serve it up to the market," he said.
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