Visions: UT innovation helps fuel economyWritten by Staff Reports | | firstname.lastname@example.org
Editor’s Note: This guest column is part of an annual special section called Visions, in which Toledo Free Press asks local economic development and business leaders to share what they see ahead for Toledo and Northwest Ohio in the coming year.
In recent years, The University of Toledo has stepped up to the plate to help drive economic development throughout Northwest Ohio and 2014 was no exception. This past year marked some exciting changes that impacted the entire innovation ecosystem in our region. In 2015, UT is poised to take its passionate commitment to innovation and entrepreneurship to another level.
At the core of this change is the newly branded UT’s Rocket Innovations enterprise (formerly UT Innovation Enterprises). Rocket Innovations consists of an investment fund, a technology transfer office and the LaunchPad Incubation program, which all work together to stimulate economic development.
RELATED: Ottney: Visions
Rocket Innovations’ focus is to invest in technology-based pre-seed companies in three sectors: IT, biomed and renewable energy. The new structure will enable UT to more effectively leverage assets and resources and collaborate with partners, including Regional Growth Partnership and Rocket Ventures to drive job growth, capital investment and wealth creation to Northwest Ohio.
LaunchPad Incubation, a program that provides intensive assistance to tech-based startups, underwent a complete makeover in 2014. The result was a 400 percent growth in clients that helped launch 20 new companies and generated over 30 new jobs.
LaunchPad also experienced two graduations. Roost, an IT-based push notification company that recently attended the prestigious Y-Combinator accelerator program in Silicon Valley, graduated in August. Nextronex, an alternative energy-based company that manufactures inverters for solar arrays, graduated in September. Both were also finalists in the Seed Financing category at the inaugural VentureOhio Awards event in September, which acknowledges significant milestones in early-stage startup firms in Ohio. Nextronex came out on top as the winner.
Another notable company in UT’s portfolio is Blue Water Satellite (BWS), an IT company that has developed a proprietary algorithm using satellite imaging to detect specific mineral contents in water and on land. This startup, now part of the LaunchPad Incubation program, was created at Bowling Green State University. Growing exponentially, BWS has been selected as a Trusted Tester by Google and has garnered some terrific press lately, partially in response to the Lake Erie water issues.
In addition to modest funding through investment (Rocket Innovations) and grant awards (LaunchPad Incubation), the focus in 2015 for both programs will be to provide business assistance, management services and mentorships to startups, and experiential learning through Student Entrepreneur In Residence opportunities. Through these activities, students and faculty are given the opportunity to receive hands-on experiential learning through active engagement in research, technology commercialization and economic development in our region.
UT was also chosen as one of the first four National Science Foundation-backed Innovation Corps (I-Corps) sites in the nation. The program allows interdisciplinary students from engineering, business and law to work collaboratively with industry to research the market and create new products through the use of a new maker space, which is a joint partnership with UT’s College of Engineering, the I-Corps program at UT and LaunchPad Incubation.
Our end goal for 2015 is to continue to leverage the assets available within UT and Northwest Ohio; develop essential resources such as time, talent and treasure (access to capital); foster engagement among students and the community partners who can help make the biggest impact to the companies we serve; and further build the programs and partnerships to provide the biggest impact to the region.
Molly Reams Thompson is director of LaunchPad Incubation at University of Toledo, Rhonda Wingfield is interim CEO of UTs Rocket Innovations (formerly Innovation Enterprises) and Jessica Sattler is director of economic engagement and business development programs at UT.