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Indiana U partners with nearby engineering school to make prototypes

A unique technology commercialization collaboration between affiliates of two universities – Indiana University Research and Technology Corp. and Rose-Hulman Ventures – is coming off its most productive year yet, and the two say the key is each institution focusing on what it does best. The partnership is giving IURTC an easy, hands-off means of creating prototypes for many of its innovations.

In its first iteration, the pairing had Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology (RHIT) engineering interns performing technology assessments on a host of ideas IU researchers were pursuing. Now, only ideas that are ready for prototyping are sent to the interns, who create working models the innovators can then use to attract commercialization funding.

“One of the lessons we’ve learned is it’s important for each institution to find its sweet spot for the collaboration to run optimally,” says Elizabeth Hagerman, PhD, vice president of corporate engagement for Terre Haute, IN-based RHIT and Rose-Hulman Ventures. “Once we both realized which parts of our operations worked best together, that set the stage for a record number of collaborations.”

Calling itself “a unique operational model for university-industry interaction,” Rose-Hulman Ventures operates a full-time engineering staff and a multidisciplinary team of student interns available to clients on a contract basis; intellectual property always stays with the client.

“Early on in the collaboration, both of us experimented outside our standard model,” Hagerman adds. “Then we figured out the most benefit and the most value was in our core competency, the engineering consulting, prototyping and design. So we said, ‘Let’s run this like a standard client project.’”

Jennifer Finefield, senior technology manager at IURTC, adds that her organization’s sweet spot is idea generation. “We didn’t have to do a lot of tweaking of our process,” she says. “The partnership came together quite smoothly.” IURTC is the not-for-profit corporation that commercializes technology from IU.

“The IURTC projects operate similarly to others here,” Hagerman says. “When a project is active, project managers and Rose-Hulman Ventures interns collaborate with researchers on at least a weekly basis as they investigate new prototypes and iterate on the design ideas.”

An engagement starts when an IU faculty member discloses an invention that needs protyping, which IURTC then shares with Rose-Hulman Ventures, Finefield explains. From there, Hagerman adds, “Rose-Hulman Ventures operates very much like an engineering consulting firm with IURTC as a client.” The client funds the work on a time and materials basis, and interns earn an hourly wage for their work, while gaining hands-on engineering experience.

A detailed article on the prototyping partnership appears in the April issue of Technology Transfer Tactics. To subscribe and get the full article, along with hundreds of other best practices and success strategies in the publication’s subscriber-only archives, CLICK HERE.

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