Fighting Brain Drain - Part 3

By: Ryan Famuliner Email
By: Ryan Famuliner Email

The University of Notre Dame and the city of South Bend have hopes that our area can be a haven for innovation.

Innovation Park and Ignition Park planners say the sooner we get into that innovative mindset, the sooner we'll see new jobs in our area.

As we've shown you this week, there's a lot of time and many factors that go into turning research in to a profitable product.

Ultimately, whether or not these ideas can be successful comes down to support; both financial, and from the community.

Tensions were high last week, as undergraduate students in Greg Crawford’s scientific entrepreneurship class got a chance many inventors would die for.

“Just to be here and meet with investors, if they were out in the real world it may take them many, many times to knock on man many doors to get that opportunity,” said Crawford, the Dean of the College of Science at Notre Dame.

As part of the scientific entrepreneurship class, Crawford’s students presented their proposals for companies to the Irish Angels: Notre Dame Alumni that are known for investing in start-ups.

“I don't really have any job prospects opportunities for the future, so maybe this could be my big break,” said Notre Dame Senior Szymon Ryzner.

The research behind the ideas all came from labs at Notre Dame, and the scientists behind them research realize the importance of getting in investors’ ears.

“To this point all (my) funding has been through private sponsorship. We have had no federal funding but we are looking at all sources of funding,” said Dr. Mark Suckow, a researcher at Notre Dame profiled in Part 1 of this series.

Among the nearly dozen or so projects, the students presented Dr. Suckow's cancer vaccine research, as well as Dr. Prashant Kamat's solar cell technology we profiled in Part 2.

Both of their projects got positive reviews.

“I saw at least 3 projects which really have the ability (to get to) what we call the commercialization stage,” said Irish Angel Hari Agarwai, who said he was most impressed by Dr. Kamat’s project.

“I know Dr. Mark Suckow's work is really advanced, so this could be a major advance. We could help move this a little further bit along the commercialization path and bring it to market to help people,” said David Brenner, C.E.O. of Innovation Park, and a member of the Irish Angels.

This is what Innovation Park plans to do; bring the best ideas to investors, except on a much broader scale than the class presentation.

“Then they would be working with others in the community where they would build prototypes. They would build all sorts of samples to be able to demonstrate the efficiency of their product, and then depending on the success, you would then start to ramp it up,” Brenner said.

But at the same time, for every successful idea, there will be many that won't ever leave the inception stage, or might need more work.

“This kind of early stage investing is kind of hard for an Angel investor because a lot of the money that is going into the company at this stage is really to prove out the research. So, there needs to be a lot of state and federal funding to achieve those kinds of milestones before an investor would feel like the risk has been adequately addressed,” said Amy Franscetic, an Irish Angel who also attended the presentations.

But in addition to the financial support, experts say community support will be very vital.

“I think most folks don't understand the rich diversity of research that's going on at Notre Dame. There’s so much here and it’s so exciting and I think the future is very bright not only for Notre Dame but for South Bend as well,” Dr. Suckow said.

“I'm very pleased with the progress we're seeing the amount of interest there's been in Innovation Park and this area. There's a lot of untapped potential,” Brenner said.

Meantime, the folks at the city of South Bend say that their Ignition Park is still a few years away. They plan to start demolition on the site in 2010, and to build in 2011.

City planners say Notre Dame's Innovation Park will more or less be the incubator, where the ideas come to fruition.

The city hopes Ignition Park will where some of those businesses go to set up shop, as they expand beyond Ignition Park.

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