Innovation Issue 2022: Valentina Kuskova: AnalytiXIN, where industry and academia co-innovate

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Innovation takes over our society in waves. Not the “improvement” type of innovation, when a cell phone gets a bigger screen or an extra camera, but the profound, all-encompassing “creative destruction” innovation, as economist Joseph Schumpeter called it back in 1942. The innovation that changes the way we live our lives.

The first wave of rapid innovation dates to the 1780s, when humanity greatly expanded its use of water power and developed mass production of textiles and stronger iron; that wave lasted about 60 years. Since then, every new wave has been shorter, more intense and more demanding of us. We are now in the sixth wave—the era of artificial intelligence, robots and drones, clean tech and data. Lots and lots of data.

I think I remember when that era started in the mid-2010s. Headlines from business and technology press were shouting: “Data will help change the world.” Growth and success related to big data were promised in marketing, health care, shopping, travel, entertainment, gaming—all areas of life. Just as with previous waves, “creative destruction” was about to change the way we did things—automating processes, digitizing goods (When was the last time you’ve printed a stack of photos from a 35mm camera roll?), developing more accurate predictive analytics.

As an academic working in advanced analytics, I noticed the changes first in the way computer scientists, many of whom were working in the field of data science, started to disseminate new knowledge. Traditional journal articles—the gold standard of academia—were replaced by conference proceedings. New technology was developing so quickly that, by the time it was published in a journal, it was already obsolete.

Then, I noticed the growing disparity in data science between large corporations and small/medium enterprises, even in the same industry. Larger corporations could afford to attract academics or create and sustain their own research labs to extract insights from growing volumes of data. Smaller businesses were left to rely on off-the-shelf products, occasional consulting services, or old and true ways of doing things, often far from newest advances in artificial intelligence or machine learning.

But for large companies as well as small, the growth of new technology by far outpaced the industry’s ability to adapt its processes, acquire appropriately skilled talent, and grow its digital capabilities to drive sustained innovation. It was clear that industry needed a solution that would help bridge that divide. In Indiana, where life sciences and manufacturing present the state’s most important economic drivers, this need was especially pronounced.

In March, I started the position of managing director of the University of Notre Dame’s AnalytiXIN initiative at Indianapolis’ 16Tech Innovation District, where the initiative was already established. Funded by the Lilly Endowment, the three major Indiana universities—Indiana, Purdue and Notre Dame—as well as several major corporations that are part of the Central Indiana Corporate Partnership, are working on this initiative together.

Collectively, representatives of universities and corporations worked for more than a year to figure out how to bridge the growing divide between advances in data science and digital capabilities of Indiana companies. The initiative consists of four major projects—the common innovation space, life sciences data assets, manufacturing data assets, and attracting/retaining talent. AnalytiXIN is the common place for inclusive co-inspiration and co-innovation.

Each member of the AnalytiXIN community has its own strategy for building such a place. At Notre Dame, the initiative is part of the Lucy Family Institute for Data & Society, a hub that facilitates transformative interdisciplinary research for societal impact. The institute is implementing the initiative at four levels of engagement with Indiana companies: strategic, R&D, project level, and upskilling/community outreach.

We started small, with several projects aimed at developing and delivering platform and customized data science solutions to companies in Indiana. But for the future, Notre Dame established a fellowship program for faculty and an internship program for students to engage with Indiana companies. Seventeen Notre Dame representatives are working with Indiana companies this summer to address the challenges that the sixth wave of innovation has presented to them.

Notre Dame’s strategy transcends the objectives of building collaboration bridges and recruiting and retaining top talent. The goal of the initiative at Notre Dame is to help establish Indiana as a leading state where industry and academia co-inspire and co-innovate, with the focus on creating a positive and uplifting impact on our communities.

I am excited for what lies ahead. Industry-academia partnership models are not new, but most are focused on exchange of data and services. AnalytiXIN, rooted in bridging the divide and encouraging co-innovation, has the potential to make Indiana the leader in data-driven academia-industry co-innovation. That, in turn, can inspire an inclusive societal impact, allowing us to ride the latest wave of innovation together, no matter how intense or demanding it is.•


Kuskova is managing director of Notre Dame’s AnalytiXIN site at 16 Tech in Indianapolis. She’s also a professor at the Lucy Family Institute for Data & Society.

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