Getting research ideas that are generated at the University of Missouri-Rolla out into the marketplace is now easier thanks to the new Center for Entrepreneurship and Outreach (CEO).
The center, established in January to assist faculty members with technology transfer, is affiliated with the UMR School of Management and Information Systems. Dr. Ray Kluczny, the school’s associate dean, oversees the center for the school.
"This connection to the UMR faculty helps me tie my work back with the students and the curriculum," says Amy Light Mills, executive director of the center. "We’re trying to incorporate this business atmosphere and entrepreneurial spirit into the curriculum of the school."
The main goal of UMR’s CEO is to help UMR faculty members find ways to move their research beyond the laboratory and into the marketplace.
"A lot of our faculty members do incredible research and create new products and ideas, or improvements to existing products, and they often just go back on the shelf and the researcher goes on to the next project," Mills says. "It would be great to take those out into the industry and commercialize them, whether that means the military or finding someone to manufacture them or just licensing the technology to someone else."
The CEO staff can not only help them identify markets for existing products, but also assist them in tailoring the products to suit the market at the beginning of the project.
"We can help them with the creative process of their research projects to keep the market in mind so their products are tailored to an application, rather than just an academic study," Mills says. "If we can get the faculty members to be successful business people, as well as academics, that will not only improve the university’s standing in the academic world, but also the business world."
A member of the computer science faculty recently came to Mills for assistance in marketing a software package. Using the old system, the professor would develop the software and then try to market it. Mills convinced him to involve her earlier in the process.
"What if you make this product and nobody wants it?" she asked him. "Wouldn’t you want to know what the market wants before you just create it in a vacuum?"
Mills believes this focus on the business side of research will help students once they get out in the "real world."
"They’re going to be working for clients in a business that has to provide what the customer wants," she says. "The students will be more marketable, more successful and happy with their careers because we will have prepared them for the workforce."
Mills says the Center for Entrepreneurship and Outreach is trying to distinguish itself from the University Extension office, which uses business and industry specialists trained to help the smaller entrepreneur just starting out in businesses like restaurants or small retail outlets. While extension offices focus on outside businesses, UMR’s CEO will also have the capability to work with UMR faculty members.
"We’re going to work with more high-tech businesses that offer a very specialized product and are facing technology issues," Mills explains. "Or with someone who has invented something really unique with unique market opportunities. We will provide this specialized assistance."
Eventually Mills hopes to increase the center’s staff to include three student research assistants and two professional staff members, in addition to clerical staff. One professional staff member will focus on federal grants, assisting faculty members as well as external businesses in compiling their ideas and information and keep track of grant opportunities. They will provide a matching service as well as critiques and advise on their applications.
The other staff member will be a business development research specialist who will keep track of trends and provide business expertise.
Although the center is affiliated with the School of Management and Information Systems, Mills hopes to offer her services to all schools on campus. She also hopes to stimulate the number of successful federal grant proposals as well as to bring an understanding of the commercialization process and opportunities to all of the UMR faculty.
In addition to the services the CEO provides to UMR faculty members, the center is also dedicated to instilling a good business sense in UMR’s students. This summer, Mills plans to offer a business course through the business administration department in the UMR School of Management and Information Systems to provide an internship in the Center for Entrepreneurship and Outreach.
"Students would get course credit and at the same time get valuable business experience," says Mills. "The students would actually work in the center, identifying clients, helping to put together grant proposals, review loan programs, and develop a department website."