Several years ago, at the ribbon-cutting ceremony for the Gregory Barnes Center for Biotechnical Business Development, Gov. Ed Rendell announced that Clarion University was starting a technology-based, academic industry economic development initiative.
This initiative actually began a year prior with the Clarion University Small Business Development Center’s relocation to the Barnes Center, the university’s technology incubator and accelorator. The SBDC, which receives support from university, state and federal funds, works with companies in the region to provide business support.
The question was, “How does one foster support to start-up tech companies?” To encourage technology-based clients to flourish, the Center for Applied Research & Intellectual Property Development was born. It also was the beginning of a three-year journey to receive and implement state support for the construction of one of the most high-tech laboratories available to industry partners in Pennsylvania, the Clarion University Innovation Laboratories. All of these resources are located in the Barnes Center.
CARIPD and the Innovation Laboratories, coordinated by Benjamin Legum, assistant professor, are part of the university vision to become a hub for manufacturing- and technology-based companies in northwestern Pennsylvania. To do this, CARIPD offers physical and intellectual resources to help transform ideas into a tangible products and services. Even more importantly, all applied research and educational efforts are conducted to industry standards and with industry partners. The overall outline of services are:
- Offers private and shared laboratories
- Access to shared prototyping equipment and research grade facilities
- Grant writing support to develop academic-industry partnerships
- Applied research consultation services
- Contract research
- Intern support/staff support
The Gregory Barnes Center is a 23,000-square-foot building designed as a centerpiece, with the ability to adapt three more wings. The first floor is occupied by the SBDC. The second floor is office and laboratory space, and the third floor houses CARIPD and Innovation Laboratories.
The Innovation Laboratories are designed to be a versatile one-stop shop. They include a centralized, shared laboratory, 200-, 500- and 2,500-square-foot, private, wet laboratories. Using a medical device backbone, a prototype room features a 3-D printer, CNC mill, CAD software, furnaces and chemical hood. Once a prototype is developed, in vitro testing can occur in the cell culture room. The next step is to walk down the hall to the vivarium, or animal facility. The last step to test feasibility of the product is to sterile-package the device in the class 10 clean room.
The versatility of this model is that a company does not need to be developing a medical device. The prototype room can be utilized by any company in the region; the biology room can be used for anyone working on a novel biologic or pharmaceutical compound; and the animal room is a completely self-contained environment that can simulate sunrise and sunset, ideal for scale-up biomass studies. The clean room provides air so pure that one could manufacture microchips or pharmaceuticals.
Since its inauguration, CARIPD has conducted contract research and grant-supported research with 11 companies and six individual entrepreneurs, and provided initial consultations for an additional eight potential entrepreneurs. More than $300,000 has been brought in through grants to support applied research for them. All of the equipment in the Innovation Laboratories is research or industry caliber.
Faculty and students are encouraged to use the laboratories for both classes and research. Over the past four years, 37 science interns (biology, chemistry, physics and computer information systems) interconnected with eight business interns, have worked through CARIPD to support industry partners and university-sponsored intellectual property endeavors.
A few examples of successful services rendered are:
- NanoBlox, Inc., Clarion, a start-up company focused on nanodiamond production. Contract research that CARIPD provided includes developing scale-up purification techniques of bulk nanodiamonds, the automation of a chemical vapor deposition furnace, market research assessment of nanodiamond-motor oil additive, and production of carboxy-methyl functionalized nanodiamonds.
- Neilson Laboratories, Inc., Denver, a supercapacitor start-up company. Legum worked with Neilson Laboratories to develop a dielectric for their supercapacitor. CARIPD worked with Neilson Laboratories to receive a Keystone Innovation Grant to develop their intellectual property.
- SynerWaste, Inc., Ridgeway, a natural gas industry support company. Legum has advised on intellectual property and acted as collaborator for the Marcellus shale innovation grant.
- The International Group, Titusville, a wax manufacturing company, has contracted CARIPD to automate its quality control system for assessing if its hundreds of products are within specifications.
- CARIPD has provided process streamlining services to Drucker Diagnostics, Inc., Phillipsburg, for their production line of medical diagnostics disposable tube line.
In addition to the industry support, Legum has patented a diamond-coated dental implant. Seven Clarion students participated in researching this novel product, which has recently entered into preliminary discussions for commercialization, and Legum currently is working to develop nanodiamond-macroscale copper alloy for heat sinks for computers.
The success of the collaboration of the SBDC, CARIPD and the Innovation Laboratories is astounding, but it does not stop with just being there to help. Together, they have also been conducting outreach and economic development through Gov. Tom Corbett’s Make It in PAinitiative. Clarion University was awarded a $300,000 Discovered and Developed in PA Program grant to support innovation in north central and northwest Pennsylvania.
The proposal brings together an all-encompassing support program for inventors and small companies. Awards of up to $15,000 and support from CARIPD, SBDC and Clarion County Economic Development Corporation are offered. This support system breaks the boundary between local and regional economic development groups, while also providing complementary business support, prototype/research facilities and applied research support. To date, the program has awarded $47,500 to four first-round applicants. The applicant pool expanded from Butler to McKean and Crawford to Center counties. The second round of applications closed at the end of November.
These pieces of the puzzle have taken four years to put together and implement. Clarion University has shown its commitment to be a support structure for existing businesses and a helping hand for entrepreneurs. The support structure is complete, and fantastic results are occurring with start-ups, regional partners, and most importantly, our students.