Strengthening University Innovation Ecosystems

Posted by Ed Morrison on May 14, 2015, in Strategic Doing.

Can universities drive economic growth? Of course. But how can we improve the performance of universities in doing so? One tactic is obvious: provide powerful educational experiences to students. Through these experiences, students gain the skills that can power both companies and economies.

A second pathway has become more popular in the past decade: accelerate the formation of new companies by faculty and students. Universities are now offering a wide range of pathways to stimulate new business formation: incubators, accelerators, maker spaces, business plan competitions, and so on.

There’s a third pathway that offers significant promise: expanding the innovation capacities of existing firms. To explore this pathway further, PCRD has developed a partnerships with a Fraunhofer institute in Germany that specializes in technology and innovation management.

Why Fraunhofer? Because the network of Fraunhofer institutes — there are 67 institutes with over 23,000 employees — are global leaders in applied research. Fraunhofer IAO, based in Stuttgart, focuses a good part of its resources on understanding how to build the infrastructures that companies need to innovate. These infrastructures enable companies to explore new markets for their technologies, as well as identify technologies that could strengthen their competitive position.

A small Purdue-Fraunhofer team has been working on these ideas for the past two years. Beginning in November 2014, we started to design pilot initiatives at the newly launched New Jersey Innovation Institute (NJII), a spin-out from the New Jersey Institute of Technology.

In April, a team from Purdue, NJII and Fraunhofer IAO met in Stuttgart for a week to complete the initial design of these pilot initiatives. Called MarketShift, these initiatives are targeted to assist New Jersey’s defense suppliers diversify their markets beyond the defense supply chain. Funded by a Department of Defense grant, DOD hopes to maintain the strength of the defense supply chain by assisting these companies with market diversification strategies. The introduction of the initial set of technology and innovation management tools is set for launch in June.