Two demonstration initiatives proposed by the School of Engineering, aimed at nurturing entrepreneurial businesses and invigorating the manufacturing sector throughout the state, will receive grant funding from Connecticut Innovations (CI). Overseeing the initiatives are Professor of Practice Dr. Hadi Bozorgmanesh and Senior Associate Dean Dr. Michael Accorsi, who is partnering with Vice President for Economic Development Dr. Mary Holz-Clause.
Both proposals won kudos for their alignment with CI’s entrepreneurial ecosystem, CTNext. They are among 20 proposals selected for funding in the fall 2013 competition. CTNext is a state-wide network supporting the success of Connecticut’s small companies and entrepreneurs by providing guidance, resources, and networks to accelerate their growth.
“One of the keys to fostering the creation and growth of businesses in Connecticut is by embracing the talent that comes from the universities,” said Claire Leonardi, CEO of Connecticut Innovations. “UConn’s School of Engineering continues to demonstrate the ability to produce talented entrepreneurs, and we are doing our part to provide the support, tools and resources to keep our brightest minds right here in Connecticut.”
Dr. Bozorgmanesh teaches a popular Experiential Technology Entrepreneurship I and II graduate-level course and also serves as a faculty mentor to the Innovation House living and learning community at UConn. The Experiential Entrepreneurship course, which debuted with the 2012-13 academic year, has produced more than a dozen startup businesses led by UConn engineering graduate students. The CTNext funding of nearly $575,000 – paired with $150,000 in matching funds from the School of Engineering – will be used as grant support for commercially viable student- and faculty-led start-ups. “This award will enable UConn to provide academic entrepreneurs access to the CTNext network resources and expertise, as well as grant funding that will help to sustain and grow them as they ramp up commercially,” notes Dr. Bozorgmanesh.
Dr. Bozorgmanesh notes that 90% of new technology-based ventures that don’t attract investors fail within the first three years. During this vulnerable stage, if start-ups receive sufficient bridge financing, networking and mentoring needed to transform lab-developed technologies into commercial products and processes, their chances of survival soar. Importantly, this cycle benefits greater society as well, through the creation of a more innovative and diverse economy. This premise is the basis for his concept of “The Third Bridge” as a center focused on identifying promising technologies developed within engineering labs and facilitating their path to innovation and successful commercialization. Dr. Bozorgmanesh says The Third Bridge will provide early stage financing, networking and mentoring, and strategic guidance to the fledgling UConn-based student or faculty-led start-up companies, which will help them refine their entrepreneurial concepts into viable commercial enterprises and position them to obtain more substantial follow-on investment.
In preparation for the formal launch of The Third Bridge, Dr. Bozorgmanesh is assembling a governing Board to comprise representatives from the stakeholder groups: industry, the Schools of Engineering and Business, the venture capital community, Connecticut Innovations and possibly the student community. According to Dr. Bozorgmanesh, students and/or faculty members who have demonstrated entrepreneurial acumen and a commercially viable product will be invited to submit proposals outlining their financial, mentorship and networking needs. The Board will review proposals and select approximately five each year for grant funding. “This is the first time that UConn Engineering and Connecticut Innovations have marshaled our resources as partners to provide a wide spectrum of assistance to university-based inventor start-ups with the aim of bridging the gap between product/service introduction and the point where angel or venture capital investors are willing to invest.”
Introducing Small Businesses to Additive Manufacturing
The initiative developed by Drs. Accorsi and Holz-Clause pivots around UConn’s resources and expertise in additive manufacturing (AM) technologies, which will be leveraged to introduce 25 Connecticut small or medium size businesses to rapid prototyping and AM, enabling them to explore the value and logistics of these state-of-the-art techniques before investing in the integration of the technologies in their workplaces. The companies will be selected through a competitive process based on white paper briefs submitted in answer to a request for proposal.
Please view the iHub site for details of the program and to apply.
“Additive manufacturing technology has the potential to revolutionize the speed and complexity of new product development while reducing cost,” says Dr. Accorsi. “By providing small and medium size Connecticut companies access to state-of-the-art AM equipment and personnel within the Additive Manufacturing Innovation Center, this project will enable companies to rapidly evaluate the potential of AM to enhance the quality, speed and breadth of new product development.”
The pilot project will receive grant funding from not only Connecticut Innovations but also industry partners and the Manufacturing Technology Assistance Program (MTAP). MTAP is administered by UConn’s Office of Economic Development and the Connecticut Center for Advanced Technology (CCAT) and is aimed at supporting Connecticut’s manufacturing sector with new opportunities for revenue and employment growth at smaller Connecticut companies.
“Leveraging the resources of CI and the MTAP to help Connecticut’s manufacturing companies explore revolutionary additive manufacturing technologies is a unique and winning approach to catalyzing the development of world class advanced manufacturing capabilities in Connecticut,” said Dr. Holz-Clause.
Dr. Accorsi adds that a successful rollout of the project will enable Connecticut to not only enhance its economic competitiveness – through the creation of well-paying jobs, the establishment of a clear platform for innovation, and the creation of new markets – but also to equip Connecticut to successfully pursue significant federal funding associated with President Obama’s National Network for Manufacturing Innovation initiative.