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 of a person with a light bulb over their head, indicating an idea.

January 24 event to showcase innovation at Miami and beyond

A highway sign reads "Innovation."

Innovation at Miami and Beyond, a free event for the Miami community, area business and industry leaders, and the public, will be held Thursday, January 24. Sponsored by Miami University’s Office for the Advancement of Research and Scholarship in collaboration with the Office of the President,  the event will include the following sessions:

9:30am-10:00am (322 McGuffey Hall) — Coffee and networking

10:00am-11:30am (322 McGuffey Hall) — A plenary session involving TED Talk-like presentations from innovators representing regional business and industry, local government, business incubators, and Miami University alumni, including:

  • Brian Cobb, Chief Innovation Officer of Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport
  • Summer Crenshaw, COO/CMO and Co-Founder of tilr
  • Darrin M. Redus, Sr., Vice President and Executive Director of the Cincinnati USA Chamber’s Minority Business Accelerator
  • Joshua Smith, City Manager of Hamilton, Ohio

Miami University’s president, Greg Crawford, will provide the welcome and opening remarks.

11:30am-12:00pm (322 McGuffey Hall) — “Leveraging Academics and Business: A New Approach for Innovation at Miami University,” presented by Jim Oris, Associate Provost for Research. Taking advantage of the excellence of its faculty and undergraduate student talent in entrepreneurship, emerging media, design thinking and STEM, Miami University is developing idle technologies into startup companies. This new era of university technology commercialization will Leverage Academics and Business to vet and determine market viability and incentivize and support creation of new businesses in an academic, laboratory-type setting. The “LAB” combines the full resources, relationships, and highly-ranked best practices of Miami University with the strong track record, networks, and best practices of Cincinnati’s nationally recognized startup community.

12:00pm-1:15pm (322 McGuffey Hall) — Lunch with the presenters

1:30pm-2:30pm (320 King Library)Burr Zimmerman of Urban Venture Group will lead a session on forming partnerships and applying for Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) grants, which fund academic-industry partnerships that lead to commercialization, and NSF Innovation Corps (I-Corps), which assists college faculty, staff, and students in validating the market potential of technologies and launching startup companies. Zimmerman will also lead individual coaching sessions for Miami faculty immediately following the event.

2:30pm-3:00pm (320 King Library) Xiao-Wen Cheng, of Miami’s Microbiology Department, will talk about his experience in the I-Corps@Ohio program, which is modeled after NSF I-Corp. Cheng will describe how he began to explore commercialization of his research and how I-Corps@Ohio focused his efforts.

2:45pm-5:00pm — Burr Zimmerman will be available for individual grant application coaching for Miami faculty in 15-minute sessions.

To attend, please register by January 23.


Bright idea image by kalhh via Pixabay, used under Creative Commons CC0 license/public domain. Innovation sign image by Nick Youngson for Alpha Stock Images via picpedia.org, used under Creative Commons 3.0 license.

A lightbulb sits within a thought bubble drawn with chalk on a small blackboard.

Save the date for “Innovation at Miami and Beyond” event

Xiao-Wen Cheng and other participants listen to an I-Corps@Ohio presentation.
Miami University associate professor of microbiology Xiao-Wen Cheng (second from right) will talk about his experience participating in I-Corps@Ohio at the Innovation at Miami and Beyond event being held January 24.

On January 24, OARS will offer an event for the Miami University community and the public titled “Innovation at Miami and Beyond.” While the details are still being finalized, the event is expected to include:

  • A plenary session in which innovators from Miami and the southwestern Ohio business community deliver TED talk-style presentations and participate in a moderated panel discussion.
  • A session on NSF’s Innovation Corps (I-Corps) program and forming partnerships and applying for Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) grants, led by Burr Zimmerman of Urban Venture Group. STTR grants fund academic-industry partnerships that lead to commercialization. NSF I-Corps assists college faculty, staff, and students in validating the market potential of technologies and launching startup companies. Zimmerman will also lead individual coaching sessions for researchers immediately following the event.
  • A presentation by Xiao-Wen Cheng of Miami’s Microbiology Department about his experience in the I-Corps@Ohio program, which is modeled after NSF I-Corp. Cheng will describe how he began to explore commercialization of his research and how I-Corps@Ohio focused his efforts.

The event will be held from 10:00am to 2:00pm and morning coffee and lunch will be provided to attendees. Watch your inbox for an invitation!


Lightbulb photo by TeroVesalainen via Pixabay, public domain/Creative Commons CC0 license. Photo of Xiao-Wen Cheng at I-Corps@Ohio courtesy of Nikki Modlich, Program Manager, I-Corps@Ohio.

An illustration of recursive cycles. Blue lines -- some solid, some dotted -- form circles on a charcoal grey background. There are arrows and open circles at intervals along the lines. At the top of each circle, a line extends beyond the circle to create a new half circle that connects to the next full circle.

Provost’s office announces recipients of Innovation & Interdisciplinary funding awards

Line drawings of compact fluorescent lightbulbs on brown paper. The lightbulbs are arranged at an angle to the bottom of the frame, and they are arranged in rows. In each row, the orientation of the lightbulbs alternates, so that the part that lights up extends toward the top of the frame in one row, and toward the bottom in the next. One bulb in the center is colored white, so that it appears to be lit up.

Last week, the Provost’s office announced which projects have been selected for Innovation & Interdisciplinary funding.  Congratulations to the following teams.


Community Place-Based Interdisciplinary Program

Tammy Schwartz, Urban Teaching Cohort Program
Thomas Dutton, Center for Community Engagement in Over-the-Rhine
Monica Ways, Office of Community Engagement and Service
Lee Harrington, Sociology & Gerontology
Walter Vanderbush, Latin American, Latino/a, & Caribbean Studies

Drawing from the lessons learned in the Urban Teaching Cohort three-year community-based curriculum model, the project aims to encourage other academic programs to develop urban community-based pedagogies and practices relevant to their disciplines.  Its goals are to generate new courses and team-teaching across departments, create teaching teams composed of Miami faculty and community-based professionals, build multi-year curricular paths, and strengthen community partnerships.  $115,000


Dream Keepers: A Grow-Your-Own Initiative

Denise Taliaferro-Baszile, Educational Leadership
Gwendolyn Etter-Lewis, English

The goal of this project is to implement a three-year college readiness program targeted at high-achieving multicultural students in urban school districts in the greater Cincinnati area.  Miami faculty and undergraduate students will collaborate with local community educators to engage teams of high school students in after-school workshops and summer experiences aimed at enhancing cognitive strategies, self-management, and college knowledge.  $150,000


 Expanding the First-Year Research Experience (FYRE) Program

Joseph Johnson, Psychology and Office of Research for Undergraduates

The goal of this project is to revise and expand the existing First-Year Research Program to serve 300-400 students across a wider range of degree programs.  The revised program features a multi-year curriculum and organizes students into research teams guided by peer mentors and graduate assistants who are supervised by faculty members.  $100,000


Miami University Food Studies Institute

Peggy Shaffer, History and American Studies
Alfredo Huerta, Biology
Thomas Crist, Institute for Environmental Studies
Sheila Croucher, American Studies
Amelie Davis, Geography
Ann Fuehrer, Women’s, Gender, & Sexuality Studies
John Keegan, Biology
Neringa Klumbyte, Anthropology
Anita Mannur, Asian & Asian American Studies, English, and Women’s, Gender, & Sexuality Studies
Beth Miller, Kinesiology & Health
Jason Palmeri, English
Nancy Parkinson, Kinesiology & Health
Charles Stevens, International Studies Program

The goals of this project are to:

  • Coordinate and develop interdisciplinary curricula centered on food;
  • Support interdisciplinary research and grant development focused on food-related issues;
  • House an experiential learning center that features a multifunctional organic garden and sustainable composting facility.

$200,000


Global Health Research Innovation Center

Cameron Hay-Rollins, Anthropology

The goals of this project are to:

  • Establish research partnerships with domestic and international organizations;
  • Design interdisciplinary projects and write research grants to support them;
  • Conduct the research, and publicize findings, thereby raising the profile of global health at Miami University.

$120,000


Miami University Center for Analytics & Data Science

John Bailer, Statistics
Allison Jones-Farmer, Information Systems & Analytics
Skip Benamati, Information Systems & Analytics
Robert Dahlstrom, Marketing
James Kiper, Computer Science & Software Engineering
Gillian Oakenfull, Marketing

The goals of this project are to:

  • Develop interdisciplinary academic programs that directly address high demand skills;
  • Partner with internal and external organizations to develop experiential learning opportunities;
  • Foster interdisciplinary collaborative research;
  • Provide professional development for Miami students, faculty, and staff in data science skills.

$175,000


Miami University Agile Initiative

Jerry Gannod, Computer Science & Software Engineering
Douglas Havelka, Information Systems & Analytics
Timothy Krehbiel, Management
Eric Luczaj, Computer & Information Technology

The goal of this project is to establish Miami as a leader in using Agile in higher education and helping other institutions to adopt Agile by creating workshops designed to expand Miami faculty’s knowledge of Agile and producing graduates who use Agile for learning, discovery, reflection, and innovation throughout their careers.  In addition, the project proposers plan to develop and offer fee-based professional education in Agile as a means of sustaining the initiative over time.  $120,000


NOTE: Award amounts listed represent total recommended funding for the full three-year project period.  In practice, after first-year awards are made, funding in the second and third years will be contingent on meeting first-year outcomes and continuing progress.

Illustrations by Libby Levi for opensource.com, via Flickr.  Used under Creative Commons license.