sealPurdue News

March 2001

Innovation 101 puts engineering and business
on the same team

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – Purdue University and the National Science Foundation are putting engineering and management students together to produce graduates who have the skills to transform academic research into marketable products.

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It's called the Innovation Realization Laboratory: Integrating Science and Engineering with Economics and Management. Purdue and the NSF are combining their efforts to the tune of more than $4 million in what aims to be the most rigorous and long-term science/engineering-business collaborative education program in the nation.

The project puts doctoral candidates in engineering and the sciences who are in the thesis stage of their academic careers into teams with master's degree management students for two years.

The innovation lab is the brainchild of Marie C. Thursby, the NSF grant principal investigator and a Krannert Graduate School of Management professor, whose areas of research include the economics of innovation and university patent licensing.

"Most science and engineering doctorates go into industry today," Thursby says. Their only realistic option to learn the business side of technology is the after-the-fact MBA. "The biggest problems in research and development are not technical but rather in integrating business and technical issues."

In addition to Thursby, the Purdue co-principal investigators for the NSF grant are Louis A. Sherman, professor and former head of the biological sciences department; Warren H. Stevenson, associate dean of engineering and professor of mechanical engineering; and William R. Woodson, associate dean of agriculture and professor of horticulture. In total, 23 Purdue faculty members representing six Purdue departments are involved in the grant.

"The innovation lab is one of the most interesting interactions at Purdue," Sherman says. "I try to stimulate our life scientists to consider entrepreneurial activities and to recruit students who are interested in combining basic research with implementation of their cutting-edge research in the marketplace."

Thursby and her colleagues are out to narrow this gap between academic research and the marketplace. "With the innovation lab, the doctoral students will gain an awareness of business issues while they're doing their thesis research," Thursby says. "The idea is not for the economics to direct the research but to illuminate the commercial implications and allow the possibility that value to society can influence the research while it is progressing."

All the doctoral students take a three-week applied management class. Then, they and the management students take business classes together and work in their teams on the marketplace implications of the thesis research.

The program's small interdisciplinary teams of smart, young, technology-savvy entrepreneurial types sound like the dynamic of the small, high-tech start-up companies that have done so much to power the economy in the last decade. Thursby says that's because the innovation lab tries to emulate the small high techs.

"The ultimate goal over five years is to create an educational program that will attract rigorous Ph.D. research scientists and management students interested in transforming basic science and technology into viable marketplace products," Thursby says. If commercial products come out of the innovation lab, so much the better, but the National Science Foundation is more interested in a model that other universities can use, she says.

The student teams began together in a class that Thursby describes as building a tool kit. That kit includes market and competitor analysis, patent searches, teamwork, diversity, ethics – all the basics necessary to build a business plan. In the second year, the students will put business plans into writing.

Sources: Marie C. Thursby, (765) 494-4463,

Louis A. Sherman, (765) 494-4407,

Writer: J. Michael Lillich, (765) 494-2077,

Purdue News Service: (765) 494-2096;

Related Web sites:
Technology Transfer Initiative home page
Office of Technology Commercialization home page

Jennifer Talavage, a doctoral candidate in electrical engineering at Purdue University, explains her research in video streaming for the Internet to Noel Marsden (left) and Brian Krum, two MBA students. The three students are working as a team transform academic research into marketable products as part of the Innovation Realization Laboratory, a project funded by Purdue and the National Science Foundation. (Purdue News Service Photo by David Umberger)

A publication-quality photograph is available at the News Service Web site and at the ftp site. Photo ID: Thursby.nsf

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