Illustration communicating ideas and connections

TVSF applications being accepted through July

A man wearing a business suit touches a drawing of an illuminated lightbulb.Applications are being accepted for the University of Dayton-Miami University Technology Validation and Startup Fund (TVSF) on a rolling basis through July 2019.

Funded by a $200,000 grant awarded by the Ohio Third Frontier Commission and $200,000 in matching funds supplied by the two universities, the UD-Miami TVSF supports commercialization of technology developed at either institution. Commercialization can be accomplished either through collaborations with existing Ohio companies or through the creation of new start-ups in the state.

“The TVSF will allow both universities to stimulate more innovation and — more importantly — transfer the knowledge generated at each university to the Ohio community,” says Matt Willenbrink, University of Dayton’s Director of Technology Partnerships.

“This is an important step in furthering president Greg Crawford’s agenda to grow Miami University’s reputation for innovation and commercialization,” says David Taffet, Miami University Executive in Residence for Inclusive Innovation and Commercialization. “The matching funds Miami and Dayton have invested in this program signify the universities’ joint commitment to innovate at the speed of business.”

For more information, including guidelines and instructions for submission, visit the UD-Miami TVSF website. Questions about the program can be directed to Willenbrink, Taffet, or Miami University Associate Provost for Research, Jim Oris.


Ideas image by Geralt via Pixabay. Lightbulb image via Maxpixel, public domain.

Standing on a hoverboard, Brian Cobb addresses Innovation at Miami and Beyond attendees.

A recap of Miami and Beyond in four quotes

Innovation at Miami and Beyond presenters: Brian Cobb, Summer Crenshaw, Darrin Redus, and Jody Gunderson.
Innovation at Miami and Beyond presenters (from left to right): Brian Cobb, Summer Crenshaw, Darrin Redus, and Jody Gunderson.

On January 24, OARS hosted Innovation at Miami and Beyond. The event included a plenary session in which innovators from around the Greater Cincinnati region shared their insights and advice. These innovators – Brian Cobb, Chief Innovation Officer of Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport; Summer Crenshaw, co-founder and COO of tilr corporation; Jody Gunderson, Director of Economic Development for the City of Hamilton; and Darrin Redus, Vice President and Executive Director of Cincinnati Chamber USA’s Minority Business Accelerator – also participated in a panel discussion moderated by Jim Oris, Miami University’s Associate Provost for Research.

Oris presented a session titled “Leveraging Academics and Business: A New Approach for Innovation at Miami University.” Burr Zimmerman of Urban Venture Group (UVG) presented a session on applying to federal STTR programs and Miami University associate professor of microbiology Xiao-Wen Cheng shared his experience in the I-Corps@Ohio program.

Here we cover highlights of the event through four quotes from the day’s presenters.

1. On why innovation matters: “Innovation is about creating value, not innovation for innovation’s sake.” – Summer Crenshaw

For Crenshaw, co-founding tilr was about transforming the cycle of poverty, rather than disrupting the human capital solutions marketplace, although the algorithm-driven platform has begun to do that too. A Miami alumnae, Crenshaw was raised in a trailer park by a steel-worker father and a mother who never finished tenth grade. As a result, she is acutely aware of the biases – socioeconomic, educational, racial, ethnic, and otherwise – that often prevent skilled applicants from being hired. Tilr creates value for both job-seekers and employers by shifting the focus from applicants’ experience to their skills and eliminating the interview process. This means, for example, that a qualified applicant is not eliminated from consideration for a job simply because the hiring manager doesn’t know how to pronounce their name and is therefore reluctant to call to schedule an interview. The result is value to job-seekers in the form of expanded access to positions and to employers in the form of an expanded talent pool.

Crenshaw’s sentiment was echoed by nearly every other presenter, in one form or another. Darrin Redus, who works to connect entrepreneurs with resources they need to bring their ideas to the marketplace, put it this way: “Does your customer care about your ‘cool’ technology? If not, is it really innovation?” That’s exactly the sort of question Xiao-Wen Cheng said he was challenged to answer as he worked to validate the market potential of his highly accurate rapid influenza test through the I-Corps@Ohio program. STTR, the federal government’s program to encourage commercialization of technologies developed at universities is, like I-Corps@Ohio, similarly concerned with how inventions will be received in the marketplace. “STTR is not about tech for tech’s sake; it’s about filling a need in the marketplace,” Burr Zimmerman said during his presentation on the program. The bottom line, according to Redus, Cheng, and Zimmerman, is that it is not the mere existence of something new and shiny that matters. Rather, it is the value the new and shiny thing brings to people – how it can help them be healthier or safer, save money, connect with others, or feel more fulfilled.

2: On how innovation happens: “Look through the lens of what’s relevant but disconnected.” – Darrin Redus

Redus argued – and research confirms – that sourcing ideas and talent from all corners of a community benefits businesses and consumers. But, he said, many people with good ideas – particularly people of color – are not plugged into traditional channels, so even motivated organizations can have a hard time making meaningful connections. According to Redus, the solution is to look beyond existing networks. The example he cited was of a company in the healthcare industry that wanted to tap into diverse talent and become more innovative. Redus suggested they reach out to the National Medical Association (NMA), a historically black analog to the American Medical Association. The NMA was certainly relevant to the healthcare company Redus was working with, but it was disconnected from the networks of the company’s leaders, until Redus suggested the link.

In his presentation, Jim Oris said that universities’ traditional method of technology transfer suffers from the same problem. In this so-called “push” approach, technologies are developed in isolation and shopped around to prospective buyers. Because inventors rarely know much about what is in demand in the marketplace, this approach tends to be high-effort/low-reward. Oris has led a break with tradition to begin employing a “pull” approach to tech transfer at Miami University. Miami’s new LAB – an acronym for Leveraging Academics and Business – connects inventors and entrepreneurs at a crucial stage in the development process and supports them as they work together to produce market-relevant technologies. An early example is the Miami University-AFRL Research Technology Commercialization Accelerator. As part of this project, Miami faculty and students have assessed a portfolio of 937 technologies, ranked them for potential viability, conducted market research, and developed business plans and design prototypes for some of the most promising. Oris predicted that two new patents and three-to-five viable products or businesses will initially result from this collaboration. Such results will demonstrate the LAB’s success in connecting previously idle intellectual property to businesses and consumers who find them relevant and beneficial.

3. On how the potential of innovation becomes realized: “This is not a transaction. It’s a relationship.” – Burr Zimmerman

In advising participants on applying for funding through STTR programs, Zimmerman said it’s important for principal investigators and their teams to develop relationships with technical points of contact (TPOCs) and other key program personnel. Applying for an STTR award is not like buying a gallon of milk from the grocery store. There’s not a virtually endless supply of awards available to anyone who can afford to “pay” for them. For one thing, figuring out whether the technology the applicant offers in exchange for the award is sufficiently valuable requires the professional judgment of reviewers. For another, the supply of awards is anything but endless (Zimmerman said less than 15% of applications result in awards). Every award, then, is a vote of confidence for the applicant, a signal that reviewers believe in their ability to carry out what they’ve proposed and that the results will be worth the investment. Insofar as people are generally more comfortable offering that kind of support to someone they know rather than to a stranger, it is wise for STTR applicants – and anyone entrepreneurially minded – to help the people who control the resources they need access to get to know and understand them. Zimmerman said any entrepreneur who is more comfortable in the lab than on the phone might consider complementing their skills by adding people who enjoy networking to their team.

For his part, Jody Gunderson emphasized the role of collaborative relationships in economic development. He challenged the popular perception of economic development as a competition. Using a metaphor, Gunderson said that economic development is traditionally viewed as a savannah populated by lions and gazelles. With each sunrise, the lions are compelled to chase the gazelles and the gazelles are compelled to outrun the lions (or at least the slowest gazelle!). But in his view, economic development is about possibilities, not competition. He said development results from realizing the possibilities inherent in endeavors like placemaking, small business development, workforce attraction and development, and community promotion and marketing. Realization of those possibilities relies on functional relationships between a community’s citizens, its businesses, and its institutions.

4. On what the next frontier of innovation might be: “Someone has to analyze the data and figure out how to use it to accomplish goals.” – Brian Cobb

During the panel discussion, Jim Oris asked Cobb and his fellow plenary speakers to predict the biggest technology disruptor for 2019. All of them mentioned the maturation of big data from collection to purposeful application. Cobb shared an example of data enabling display of real-time – rather than static – information about wait times for trains passengers use to move between terminals at the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport (CVG). In his plenary session talk, Cobb also shared how smartwatches are being used by personnel at CVG to share information about housekeeping service needs and task completion. In both cases, the analysis of data enabled strategies for improving customer satisfaction.

The analysis of big data is improving the customer experience at other businesses as well. Gunderson cited the example of Spooky Nook at Champion Mill, a mega sports complex being built in Hamilton. Spooky Nook’s founder, Sam Beiler, told Gunderson that analysis of data they have collected at their existing facility near Manheim, Pennsylvania shows customers begin forming opinions about their overall experience while they are still in the parking lot. That information will be used to inform development of the Hamilton facility with an eye toward maximizing customer satisfaction.

Aside from customer experience, Crenshaw said she sees the potential for business data to improve quality of life within communities. For instance, she said, analysis of tilr data about which job offers applicants decline, and why, could reveal “holes” in local transportation systems. Public transportation service providers could then use that information to add or change routes to better serve people in those areas.


Written by Heather Beattey Johnston, Associate Director of Research Communications, Office for the Advancement of Research and Scholarship, Miami University.

Photos by Scott Kissell, Miami University Photo Services.

Illustration communicating ideas and connections

TVSF now accepting applications

A man wearing a business suit touches a drawing of an illuminated lightbulb.Applications are now being accepted for the University of Dayton-Miami University Technology Validation and Startup Fund (TVSF). Funded by a $200,000 grant awarded by the Ohio Third Frontier Commission and $200,000 in matching funds supplied by the two universities, the UD-Miami TVSF supports commercialization of technology developed at either institution. Commercialization can be accomplished either through collaborations with existing Ohio companies or through the creation of new start-ups in the state.

“The TVSF will allow both universities to stimulate more innovation and — more importantly — transfer the knowledge generated at each university to the Ohio community,” says Matt Willenbrink, University of Dayton’s Director of Technology Partnerships.

“This is an important step in furthering president Greg Crawford’s agenda to grow Miami University’s reputation for innovation and commercialization,” says David Taffet, Miami University Executive in Residence for Inclusive Innovation and Commercialization. “The matching funds Miami and Dayton have invested in this program signify the universities’ joint commitment to innovate at the speed of business.”

For more information, including guidelines and instructions for submission, visit the UD-Miami TVSF website. Questions about the program can be directed to Willenbrink, Taffet, or Miami University Associate Provost for Research, Jim Oris.


Ideas image by Geralt via Pixabay. Lightbulb image via Maxpixel, public domain.

Xiao-Wen Cheng sits in front of a microscope in his lab.

Microbiologist hopes effort to build a better flu test will catalyze a start-up

Group photo of Miami University's I-Corps@Ohio team: Xiao-Wen Cheng, Michael Nau, and Hui Shang.
A team from Miami University participated in I-Corps@Ohio in 2018. The team included Xiao-Wen Cheng (left), associate professor of microbiology who served as principal investigator; Michael Nau (center), a senior microbiology major and management minor who served as the entrepreneurial lead; and Hui Shang (right), a graduate student in the cell, molecular, and structural biology program who served as the co-entrepreneurial lead.

Some years, as much as 20% of the U.S. population becomes infected with the influenza virus, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Most people who get the flu experience mild illness that amounts to little more than an unpleasant inconvenience. However, some cases of the flu can be very severe, and even mild cases can be life-threatening for young children, the elderly, and those with certain medical conditions. For these vulnerable patients, early treatment with antiviral drugs is critical.

Yet, to be treated, the flu must first be diagnosed, and doing that is not as easy as many clinicians would like. Although there are two different kinds of tests that can be used to diagnose the flu while a patient is in the doctor’s office, these tests don’t catch every case. A third test is more accurate, but requires processing and analysis in a lab, making it more expensive and time-consuming as well. The net effect is that critical treatment may be delayed, if it happens at all.

Xiao-Wen Cheng is working on a better way. An associate professor of microbiology at Miami University, Cheng’s innovation is to detect a virus directly, using a method that doesn’t require extracting viral RNA. Detecting a virus directly is more diagnostically reliable than detecting the antibodies a patient has developed in response to a viral infection – the method used in currently available rapid influenza diagnostic tests (RIDTs) – because patients in the very early stages of infection may not yet have developed antibodies. Cheng’s method is also cheaper and faster than direct-detection lab tests that rely on RNA extraction.

The key to Cheng’s innovation is an engineered enzyme known as RTAKAS-mix. RTAKAS-mix was initially inspired by an enzyme produced by a group of German scientists. That enzyme – which Cheng learned about in a paper the team published – was capable of detecting certain viruses. However, as Cheng discovered when he replicated it, the enzyme was not very robust, so its usefulness in practical applications was limited.

To benefit clinicians and patients, Cheng knew a useful viral diagnostic enzyme would have to be sturdy enough to withstand some harsh conditions. “Diagnostic test kits have to be shipped from the manufacturer to doctors’ offices,” he says. “They’re transported by truck across the country all year. It can be more than 100 degrees Fahrenheit inside a truck in the summer, and the test kit has to be able to survive that.”

Since the enzyme originally created by the German team was not that robust, Cheng and his team put the enzyme through a series of mutations, finally developing the stable, long-lived RTAKAS-mix, which can withstand temperatures up to 54°C (129°F) for at least two days.

Once his lab had an optimized enzyme, Cheng needed a path to commercialization, so he applied and was accepted to I-Corps@Ohio, a program that uses methodologies pioneered by the National Science Foundation in its Innovation Corps (I-Corps) program. As its website explains, I-Corps@Ohio is “a statewide grant-funded program to assist faculty and graduate students from Ohio universities and colleges to validate the market potential of their technologies and launch startup companies.”

In addition to Cheng, who serves as the project’s principal investigator, the I-Corps@Ohio project team includes Michael Nau, a senior microbiology major and management minor who serves as the entrepreneurial lead; Hui Shang, a graduate student in the cell, molecular, and structural biology program who serves as the co-entrepreneurial lead; and Dan Rose, an angel investor, entrepreneur, and I-Corps@Ohio instructor who serves as the entrepreneurial mentor.

Together, Nau and Shang interviewed more than 100 potential customers – nurses, doctors, veterinarians, and other clinicians – to learn about their day-to-day practices and what they need from a viral diagnostic tool. Some of the interviews were via phone or email, but many of them were in person, with Cheng driving Nau and Shang to hospitals and doctors’ offices all over the Columbus area.

One insight that came from the interviews surprised Cheng: when it comes to flu, clinicians don’t really care about viral load, or how many copies of the virus are circulating in a patient’s body. Cheng’s test is so sensitive it can detect the presence of a single virus particle in a sample, and that’s all that’s needed for the flu – a simple infected/not infected diagnosis is enough to make appropriate treatment decisions.

But Cheng’s test can also determine viral load, and he learned from the interviews with clinicians that viral load is very important to treatment decisions for certain other viral infections, including HIV. Cheng has already used RTAKAS-mix to detect FIV, a feline virus similar to HIV that causes an AIDS-like disease in cats. Now he’s heading back to the lab to see if he can apply his solution to develop a direct-detection test for HIV – and HIV viral load – that doctors can use in their offices while patients wait.

At the same time, Cheng and his I-Corps@Ohio team will look for an investor to form a company that will manufacture and market a flu test kit using RTAKAS-mix. “The company will probably operate for a short time before it is bought by a larger company,” he says. “That’s the business model, to attract investment through acquisition.”

Being involved, however briefly, in the management of the new start-up company will provide Nau and Shang with valuable experience. Even negotiating their eventual exit from the company will become part of a roadmap they can use to navigate future entrepreneurial ventures.

That’s important because commercialization of biomedical innovations is as critical to improving the lives of Ohio’s citizens and ensuring the vibrancy of its economy as the scientific discoveries behind those innovations. After all, as Cheng puts it, “If technology stays in the lab, it creates no value.”


Written by Heather Beattey Johnston, Associate Director of Research Communications, Office for the Advancement of Research and Scholarship, Miami University.

Photo of Xiao-Wen Cheng by Jeff Sabo, Miami University Photo Services. Photo of I-Corps@Ohio project team by I-Corps@Ohio.

Photo of Lisa Dankovich at Greg Crawford's presidential inauguration, Miami University.

Long-time staff member Lisa Dankovich now part of OARS team

Lisa Dankovich, Jill Meyer, and Johnna Reeder
Lisa Dankovich, left, works closely with Cincinnati business leaders, including Jill Meyer (center), President/CEO of Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber and Johnna Reeder (right), former President/CEO of REDI Cincinnati.

The OARS staff warmly welcomed me into their department this summer, making my move from University Communications and Marketing a seamless transition. As director of university external relations, I have been focused on developing relationships with business and community leaders in Greater Cincinnati since 2013. Joining OARS now allows me to more fully help faculty to increase their academic partnerships, expand research collaborations, and find new opportunities to share innovations and commercialization activities.

Because of my 29 years of experience at Miami, including invaluable times in intercollegiate athletics and government relations, I have developed a unique, holistic perspective of our university. My knowledge of Miami and extensive collaboration with colleagues in the region, give me insights on where we can maximize our resources and form new partnerships.

The goal to strengthen our business partnerships and visibility in Cincinnati evolved from the Miami 2020 Plan. “Foundation Goal 3: Effective Partnerships and Outreach” states as one of its objectives: “To advance Ohio’s economic development and prosperity by providing talent and expertise that helps shape policy and improves quality of life.”

Interestingly, the question I hear within the university most often is, “Why Cincinnati?” The Greater Cincinnati Region with its 15 counties is “home” to Miami University. Furthermore, we are deeply embedded in the region because of our Oxford, Hamilton, and Middletown campuses, the Voice of America Learning Center in West Chester, our presence in Over the Rhine, and our extensive alumni network. We have more than 50,000 alumni living and working in the region.

The region is known for its collaboration, innovation, and shared values. Cincinnati is a city where C-suite executives from Fortune 500, mid-cap, and startup companies strive to speak with one voice. They use the services of the Cincinnati Business Committee, Cincinnati Regional Business Committee, Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber, REDI Cincinnati, Cintrifuse, and city, state, and federal officials, among others, to activate a network that fosters the next phase of economic growth. These are the organizations I work with on a daily basis.

Currently, we have nearly 60 regional businesses actively engaged with the university through academic programming, advisory boards, client-based classes, and applied research and development. These include industry sectors spanning consumer products, financial services, health care, manufacturing, and military services.

Now, the Boldly Creative Initiative gives us new ways to serve the public through teaching, scholarship, and research. As President Crawford says, “It is the time for Miami to take bold and creative steps to benefit our students, the people of Ohio, and our nation . . . to invest in our future – innovating and creating a new generation of academic excellence that meets the challenge of our complex, data-driven global economy.”

A major key to our success is finding ways we can invest in our future and partner with our regional business and community leaders to make a positive difference. If you want to learn more about how I can help bring faculty and industry partners together for purposes of research, recruiting, consulting, and speaking opportunities, or if you need help to secure industry letters of support for state and federal grants, please contact me.


Written by Lisa Dankovich, Director of University External Relations, Office for the Advancement of Research and Scholarship, Miami University. Edited by Donna Boen, Managing Editor, University Communications and Marketing, Miami University.

Photos courtesy of Lisa Dankovich.

Panelists Candice Matthews, John Leland, Matt Willenbrink, Jim Oris, and Darrin Redus pose behind a table with a Miami University of Ohio Graduate School and Research tablecloth.

Panel discusses future of university and business collaboration

We had a full house for our panel discussion on the future of university and business collaboration, which was held last Thursday in King Library’s Center for Digital Scholarship. Approximately 60 people attended the event, titled “Innovation and Commercialization: Launching a New Era.” Panelists were Darrin Redus, Vice President of the Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber’s Minority Business Accelerator; Candice Matthews, Co-founder and Executive Director of Hillman Accelerator; John Leland, Vice President for Research at the University of Dayton and Executive Director of the University of Dayton Research Institute; Jim Oris, Associate Provost for Research and Dean of the Graduate School at Miami University; and Matt Willenbrink, Director of Technology Partnerships at the University of Dayton. David M. M. Taffet, Executive in Residence for Inclusive Innovation and Commercialization at Miami University moderated the discussion and Miami University President Greg Crawford delivered welcome remarks. The event was streamed live on Facebook; watch a recording above.


Photo and Facebook Live video by Kelly Bennett, Manager of University Social Media and Marketing Strategy, University Communications and Marketing, Miami University.

 

Photo illustration of the earth inside an illuminated lightbulb.

New inclusive innovation and commercialization initiatives provide opportunities for Miami students, faculty, and staff

Two new initiatives give Miami University students, faculty, and staff the opportunity to help usher in a new era of inclusive innovation and commercialization.

Miami University–AFRL Research Technology Commercialization Accelerator

Members of the Miami community are encouraged to work with technology transfer staff to identify patents or patent applications in the Air Force Research Lab’s (AFRL) open portfolio that match their current interests. These patents could supplement a current line of inquiry or jump start an innovation.

An agreement between Miami and the Wright Brothers Institute of Dayton gives Miami support in reviewing and accessing the Air Force Research Lab’s entire open portfolio of more than 1,000 patents and patent applications. The portfolio reflects the breadth of AFRL research programs.  Technological advances that include innovations in energy storage, healthcare monitoring, and advanced manufacturing go far beyond military sciences.

As a steward of taxpayer dollars, AFRL is committed to transferring technologies with non-defense applications to the commercial sector, where they can benefit everyday Americans.

“Miami University has a wealth of researchers and entrepreneurs with the drive and know-how to mature these technologies and bring them to market,” says David M. M. Taffet, executive-in-residence.  “The Miami University-AFRL Research Technology Commercialization Accelerator is a model for how a university can work at the speed of business.”

Among the ways students will be involved with the AFRL portfolio is through a capstone course in the Farmer School of Business, led by Wayne Speer, an instructor of marketing..

Students, faculty, and staff who are interested in exploring the AFRL open portfolio should contact either Matt Willenbrink or Jim Oris. Willenbrink is director of technology partnerships at the University of Dayton, Miami’s tech transfer partner.  Oris is Miami’s associate provost for research and scholarship.

Miami University–University of Dayton Technology Validation and Start-up Fund

Applications to the Miami University–University of Dayton Technology Validation and Start-up Fund (TVSF) will be accepted beginning this month.

Supported by matching funds from the Ohio Third Frontier program [link], the Miami-UD TVSF represents an innovation because it is a partnership between a public and a private institution and because it spans two regional job markets.

Initial applications will be for Phase 1 or technology validation projects. Ohio Third Frontier defines the objectives for Phase 1 projects as follows:

  • Generate the proof needed to move technology to the point that it is either ready to be licensed by an Ohio start-up company or otherwise deemed unfeasible for commercialization.
  • Perform validation activities such as prototyping, demonstration and assessment of critical failure points in subsequent development, scale-up and commercialization in order to generate this proof, with strong preference for these validation activities being performed by an independent source.

“We would like to see projects that have high commercial potential by enabling product or services that have competitive advantages,” says Willenbrink. “A successful application will clearly detail both the commercial potential and specifically how the funding will move the technology closer to being commercialized.”

The TVSF offers an accelerated path to commercialization because projects that receive Phase 1 funding are better positioned for success in Phase 2, the start-up phase.

“Phase I TVSF projects are managed by the universities and are designed to bring university technology closer to being licensed or spun-out as a startup company. Phase II projects are for companies to further develop Phase I efforts,” says Willenbrink.

Anyone at Miami who thinks they would like to pursue a technological venture is encouraged to contact Willenbrink and Taffet to discuss potential ideas and learn more about the application process.

Both the Miami University–AFRL Research Technology Commercialization Accelerator and Miami University–University of Dayton Technology Validation and Start-up Fund are designed to leverage Miami University resources to benefit the wider community. All Miamians — including those from traditionally underrepresented groups — are encouraged to explore opportunities for sharing their talent, knowledge, and skill through these programs.


Written by Heather Beattey Johnston, Associate Director of Research Communications, Office for the Advancement of Research and Scholarship, Miami University.

Lightbulb image by PIRO4D via Good Free Photos, public domain. The Five Cogs of Innovation image by Jurgen Appelo via Flickr, used under Creative Commons license.

 

 

A compass sits on a page of financial information.

New faces in Miami’s tech transfer and commercialization community

A slide rule used to calculate flight paths.

Two new members of the Miami University community are helping guide Miami as it charts a course for the future university and business collaboration, with a focus on inclusive innovation. We introduce them here.


David M. M. Taffet

Executive in Residence for Inclusive Innovation and Commercialization, Miami University

David M.M. Taffet has a career spanning law, investment banking, private equity, not-for-profits, turnarounds, buy-outs, management, retail, and real estate.

He worked his way through college and law school and has built his own businesses, meeting the payroll needs of hundreds of employees. He has raised close to half a billion dollars of debt and equity on behalf of his own and others’ ventures. He has evaluated the merits of others’ ventures, turned others’ enterprises around, and worked internationally in varied industries with geographically-dispersed operations.

“I have enjoyed the real-world experience essential to assuming leadership positions not with a sense of entitlement, but rather with a healthy appreciation of the work ethic and personal sacrifice necessary to complete the small things that prove fundamental in accomplishing great things,” Taffet says.

Earlier this year, Taffet was selected as Miami University’s first executive-in-residence in the area of inclusive innovation and commercialization. Taffet’s accomplishments in this position include the following:

  • An agreement between Miami University and the Wright Brothers Institute of Dayton, an entity that assists the U.S. Air Force Research Lab with technology transfer, interactions with the community, workforce development, and innovation. This collaboration created the Miami University-AFRL Research Technology Commercialization Accelerator and gives Miami support in reviewing and accessing the lab’s entire open portfolio of over 1,000 patents and patent applications.
  • A successful joint submission by Miami and the University of Dayton to the Ohio Third Frontier that resulted in $200,000 in state matching funds awarded for the creation of a technology validation and start-up fund (TVSF). The TVSF will invest in advancing technologies at both institutions that can be further developed into products by startups and other young companies in Ohio.
  • An agreement between Miami and the University of Dayton to share technology transfer services. The agreement provides more efficient services in Southwest Ohio by leveraging resources of the University of Dayton to provide support for patent exploration and other areas of development and commercialization for Miami research.

Matt Willenbrink

Director of Technology Partnerships Office, University of Dayton Research Institute

As part of the shared services agreement between Miami and the University of Dayton, Matt Willenbrink is now the point-of-contact for technology transfer at Miami.

For the past decade, Willenbrink has been the director University of Dayton Research Institute’s Technology Partnerships Office, where he negotiates research-related contracts (including license agreements), intellectual property matters and other legal matters. Prior to earning his MBA and JD, Willenbrink worked as a biochemist in industry.

Willenbrink’s office provides the following services to researchers from both the University of Dayton and Miami University:

  • Support in securing industrial sponsorship for research projects;
  • Development of appropriate research agreements with industry to protect institutional intellectual property rights;
  • Handling of intellectual property issues in government and industrial contracts;
  • Commercial development of inventions to generate royalty income from licenses to support the technology commercialization program and university research programs;
  • Support to obtain patents on university inventions and to license university technology to outside companies.

University of Dayton Research Institute’s technology commercialization program has been successful in developing and commercializing inventions such as phase change materials, the RULER and COAT (smart dipstick) technology, Autodamp/Autobeam software, material analysis and testing software (MATE), and advanced polymer materials.


Compass image by freeGraphicToday via Pixabay. Flight computer image by Duke via Wikimedia Commons. Both used under Creative Commons license.

Miami University's College of Engineering and Computing lab

New collaborations increase opportunities for commercialization

Scott Hartley supervises the work of graduate students in his lab.
A new agreement will soon bring together Miami faculty and students with AFRL and industry researchers.

Miami University is currently re-casting technology commercialization efforts. While traditional technology transfer has been the focus in the past, the focus moving forward will be on a more collaborative business partnering model. This model will create connections to early-stage and established businesses on research and development efforts. Two recently announced collaborations — between Miami University and the Wright Brothers Institute and between Miami and the University of Dayton — are among the first steps to implementing the new model.

Miami University-AFRL Research Technology Commercialization Accelerator

Miami University and Wright Brothers Institute of Dayton will work together to identify technologies from an Air Force Research Lab portfolio of more than 1,000 patents that have potential commercial use for public good.

The agreement creates the Miami University–AFRL Research Technology Commercialization Accelerator. This collaboration gives Miami support in reviewing and accessing the lab’s entire open portfolio of patents and patent applications.

The patent portfolio mimics the breadth of AFRL research programs. Technological advances that include innovations in energy storage, healthcare monitoring, and advanced manufacturing go far beyond military sciences.

Miami will create and lead programming to connect those technologies with entrepreneurs, funding, and other resources needed to bring the technologies to market.

“This agreement is a significant step in Miami University’s evolution into being an entrepreneurial university,” said President Greg Crawford. “It will provide great learning experiences for our students in entrepreneurship, science, engineering and intellectual property law.”

It will also open up opportunities for research collaborations between Miami and the Air Force Research Lab.

Wright Brothers Institute assists the Air Force Research Lab, headquartered at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, with technology transfer, interactions with the community, workforce development and innovation. It works hand-in-hand with the lab to commercialize Air Force-developed technology; to establish collaborations with regional, state and national entities; and to provide innovative solutions to complex technical and organizational problems.

“We are very excited about this partnership. Miami has access to state, research, alumni and student resources that are critical for building a commercialization ecosystem,” said Les McFawn, executive director of Wright Brothers Institute.

The Air Force Research Lab employs more than 5,700 researchers and scientists who execute a $5 billion annual budget on behalf of the United States Air Force. The research lab spends more than $550 million in Ohio, with a majority going back into the Dayton region. Nearly $12.5 million goes to Ohio academia, $260 million toward small business and the remainder to industry.

Work done within the Air Force Research Lab has contributed to significant advancements in modern communications, electronics, manufacturing, and medical research and products available to the public.

For example, Polybenzimidazole fiber, used in firefighters’ gear, space suits and welders’ gloves, was developed by the research lab.

There are many more opportunities for development with the 1,000-plus patent portfolio that Miami’s faculty, students and the Wright Brothers Institute can help bring to the marketplace through connections within the business community.

As early as spring semester 2018, Miami will incorporate patent review, technology exploration, and potential business plan development into its entrepreneurship curriculum.

At the same time, the institute will conduct commercial opportunity analyses and facilitate key connections within the Air Force Research Lab and the community to nurture the accelerator.

A key feature of the accelerator is that it brings together students with different academic majors from across the university.

Wright Brothers Institute is a non-profit innovation institute that provides breakthrough solutions to the Air Force Research Laboratory’s most complex problems. WBI has been a Partnership Intermediary to AFRL since 2003 and actively supports Headquarters AFRL and the four Technology Directorates located at Wright-Patterson AFB in Dayton, OH.

University of Dayton

To serve Southwest Ohio more efficiently, Miami University and the University of Dayton have entered into a shared services agreement for technology transfer activities.

The agreement leverages resources of the University of Dayton to provide support for patent exploration and other areas of development and commercialization for Miami research.

“This agreement allows us to streamline operations to avoid the duplication of processes and infrastructure within the Dayton region,” said Jim Oris, associate provost for research and scholarship at Miami.

In addition, Miami and the University of Dayton have submitted a joint request to the state for matching funds to create a technology validation and startup fund. The state funds would come from Ohio Third Frontier, which is committed to transforming the state’s economy through the accelerated growth of diverse startup and early-stage technology companies.

If funded, the proposed Miami University-University of Dayton tech validation and startup fund will invest in advancing technologies at both institutions that can be further developed into products by startups and other young companies in Ohio.

Together with a recently-announced collaboration between Miami and the Wright Brothers Institute to commercialize Air Force Research Laboratory-developed technology, these collaborations between Miami and the University of Dayton enhance the capacity for technology development and the startup ecosystem in the region.

The University of Dayton Research Institute is a national leader in scientific and engineering research. Its professional researchers provide support in a variety of technical areas, ensuring customer success by delivering affordable and innovative solutions, leading-edge technologies and outstanding service. The institute leverages the expertise of faculty and students, along with its partners in academia, government and industry, to address unique technical challenges and help the university fulfill its commitment to education, research and public service.


Photos by Jeff Sabo, Miami University Photo Services.