Changing Lives

Johnny Park, founder Spensa Technologies

Purdue University is a recognized leader in moving life-changing innovations to the public, but there is still an untapped treasure of gifted faculty, staff and students who are looking for the right avenue to commercialize their innovations. Recognizing this need, Purdue administrators have developed a variety of programs to help entrepreneurially minded innovators commercialize their discoveries.

Daniel Hasler

A Common Goal

“These programs are about a team of individuals working together and helping each other become successful.”

Daniel J. Hasler
President and Chief Entrepreneurial Officer, Purdue Research Foundation

President Mitch Daniels says that Purdue has created more than two dozen entrepreneurial entities — each providing an important piece of Purdue’s commercialization endeavors. To combine these resources, strengthen Purdue’s technology transfer activities and generate more entrepreneurship and commercialization opportunities, Daniels hired Daniel J. Hasler, former Indiana secretary of commerce.

Hasler says, “As a land-grant institution and recipient of taxpayer dollars, Purdue has a responsibility to get these innovations to those who would benefit.”

Making it easier to commercialize Purdue innovations

The Purdue Office of Technology Commercialization has spearheaded three recent technology transfer policy implementation changes to make it easier to commercialize Purdue innovations.

“We already have a strong technology transfer program, and our recent efforts focused on transparency as well as implemented shortened avenues to accelerate the technology transfer process,” says Elizabeth Hart-Wells, assistant vice president of the Purdue Office of Technology Commercialization. “To accomplish this, we made some expeditious changes to simplify the commercialization processes.”

The changes, which have been well received by Purdue innovators, are:

  • Innovation Assessment Process — A six-month procedure to expedite the transfer of lifechanging Purdue discoveries to the public.
  • Purdue Innovator Express Startup License — For Purdue innovators who founded a new venture that develops and commercializes the respective Purdue innovation and offers them a fast track to license.
  • A zero-fee, first-option program — Ensures a SBIR/STTR grant recipient can competitively leverage Purdue technology during the term of the work performed at Purdue.

Tymora Analytical Operations, a company founded on an innovation of Andy Tao, associate professor of analytical chemistry, has taken advantage of the express startup license.

“We liked the opportunity to use an express license because it enabled us to immediately license our technology and helped us avoid the licensing negotiation process, which can sometimes take months to complete,” Tao says.

Alumni establish entrepreneurial mentoring group

iPadSPEAKall app

In 2012, doctoral student Ming Hsu works with 13-year-old Quentin Travers in the Purdue University Speech-Language Clinic. Quentin used the iPadSPEAKall! app to ask for the items on the plate.

The growing interest to help Purdue innovators commercialize discoveries led to the creation of the Silicon Valley Boiler Innovation Group, or SV BIG. The 30-member nonprofit group comprised of Silicon Valley-based Purdue alumni is led by co-chairs Tom Schroeder (BSIE ’69) and Bruce Schechter, (BS ’80 in math and physics). The group links Purdue entrepreneurs with California venture capitalists, angel investors, entrepreneurs and industry leaders.

“Purdue has outstanding researchers whose work is ready to move to the public, and our goal is to mentor the University’s faculty, staff and student entrepreneurs and provide them with assistance in moving their innovations to the public,” Schroeder says.

The group has already mentored several Purdue innovators including Johnny Park, research assistant professor in electrical and computer engineering and founder of the Purdue Research Park-based Spensa Technologies Inc. Park’s technology, called a Z-Trap, automatically monitors insect pest populations in agricultural fields and reduces the amount of insecticides used and emitted into the environment. His technology is being used in several U.S. states and in Europe, Australia and South America.


Burton D. Morgan Center for Entrepreneurship and the Purdue Foundry

Programs announced this summer to help Purdue innovators through the commercialization process include the Purdue Foundry, which is based in the Burton D. Morgan Center for Entrepreneurship.

“The opening of the Purdue Foundry within Discovery Park will allow us to use a more integrated approach for supporting Purdue students, faculty and staff,” said Joe Pekny, a chemical engineering professor, entrepreneur and recently appointed interim director designate of the Burton D. Morgan Center for Entrepreneurship. “Providing a strong support system for Purdue innovators from discovery to commercialization under one roof will enable us to expand the services and programs we already provide.”

The building’s namesake, Burton D. Morgan, graduated from Purdue in 1938 with a degree in mechanical engineering and was a prolific entrepreneur who founded 50 companies in his lifetime.

“The Burton D. Morgan Foundation continues to champion the work of Purdue’s Burton D. Morgan Center for Entrepreneurship, and we are excited about the expansion of startup services through the establishment of the Purdue Foundry,” said Deborah D. Hoover, president and CEO of the Burton D. Morgan Foundation. “Mr. Morgan would be bursting with pride at his alma mater’s sophisticated and networked programs to assist entrepreneurs and their ventures.”

“The support I have received from the Purdue entrepreneurial team and from the alumni group has been tremendous, and I feel very fortunate to be at Purdue right now,” Park says. “I’ve always had the sense that Purdue is very entrepreneurial minded, but I can feel a new energy on campus and a growing interest in entrepreneurship from other faculty and staff.”

Oliver Wendt, assistant professor in the departments of Speech, Language, and Hearing Sciences and Educational Studies, also has been chosen to be mentored by SV BIG. Wendt is commercializing SPEAK all! and SPEAK more!, two iPad applications that help children struggling with autism to communicate by using photos and graphic symbols that represent what a child wishes to say and help the child construct sentences and learn vocabulary.

“Learning how to be an entrepreneur isn’t something you typically learn or even think about when you are working toward your PhD in a specific field,” Wendt says. “The assistance provided from the University, the foundation, the alumni and other departments across campus is a tremendous help.”

Discovery Park Partners

Another program announced this summer is the Discovery Park Partners, a program for corporations and entrepreneurs interested in partnering with Purdue on research projects and for faculty, staff and student entrepreneurs who have founded a company. The program is housed in a 10,000-squarefoot facility owned by the Purdue Research Foundation and less than one mile west of Discovery Park. An advantage to the space is the flexibility it will provide for entrepreneurial activities, said Alan Rebar, executive director of Discovery Park, senior associate vice president for research and professor of veterinary clinical pathology.

“The Discovery Park Partners facility will provide these entrepreneurs the privacy they need to work on their businesses and still be close enough to their research facilities on the Purdue campus to advance their innovations,” Rebar says. “Our hope is that the new space will energize and incentivize campus researchers and entrepreneurs into moving their ideas forward and form a startup.”

Student involvement

Mike Asem, a Purdue liberal arts undergraduate and co-founder of the startup Tebogo LLC, and Chris MacPherson, a Purdue business undergraduate and co-founder of Kyk Energy Inc., have partnered to create the Anvil, a co-working space and business incubator.

“The Anvil was created by entrepreneurs for entrepreneurs, and we want the space to be community-driven so we invite all Purdue entrepreneurs to get involved,” Asem said.

The Anvil will be located in the same facility as Discovery Park Partners.