When the Department of Bioengineering moved into the Innovative Technologies Complex (ITC) last January, it was a milestone of sorts – one that Binghamton University hopes is the first of many. The department became the first tenant in the first building of the complex. Currently one 92,000 square-foot building, known as the Alpha building, on a 21-acre parcel of land, the ITC is destined to expand.
Since last September, a committee comprised of cross-disciplinary faculty and staff has been developing a business and operating plan for the ITC to spark economic development through research in the life sciences, enabling sciences and associated support technologies. Bioengineering, tissue engineering, biomedical devices, sensors, bioinformatics, small scale systems packaging, proteomics and genomics will draw upon related areas such as materials science, chemistry, physics and microelectronics to create synergy.
The committee, chaired by Gerald Sonnenfeld, vice president for research, is working on more than just a business plan, said member Francis Yammarino, professor of management. “It’s not only a business plan, it’s a business strategy,” he said. “It’s ‘What do we want this facility to be? What will it look like five to 10 years down the road?'” Yammarino said there’s a real role for management in the ITC’s development. “The whole commercialization of technology is where a place like the School of Management can help with communication skills, a customer focus, information on markets, accounting and finance,” he said. “I think it’s a partnership. The bioengineering folks and life science folks will do what they do, and if they partner with the business people, I think the place can be very successful.” One of the major goals of the ITC is to attract venture capital to enhance commercialization of faculty research. “When you talk to venture capitalists or investors, they’re sharp guys who don’t necessarily understand the product, so you need someone else in the room to explain the profit potential and payoff kind of stuff — business folks talking to business folks,” said Yammarino.
The flexibility of the building’s design will foster cross-disciplinary and multidisciplinary research as it provides supportive resources to help move innovations from the laboratory to the marketplace. “It’s being set up as a very different kind of space on campus,” said Thomas O’Brien, associate professor of education and a committee member. “This is for a subset of faculty whose research focus tends to consider economic development. The ITC is a special place for that to happen. “There will be a sort of back and forth interaction that’s very
heartening to see where the economic impact of the campus can be multiplied beyond the campus,” O’Brien added. “There’s great potential for the region.” Martha Reitman, president and CEO of Reitman Corporation is serving as an advisor to the ITC committee as it establishes the vision and mission. “There is an operations plan in draft that this committee has been working on quite strongly to be sure that there’s a great deal of communication and mutual understanding that go along with such an important development,” she said. “It’s very much a plan for growth and there is a commitment to really actively link applied research and economic development in new ways.
“The faculty on the committee are outstanding — highly professional, very communicative and very invested,” she said. “There is a great deal of respect and consideration for being an integrated team, little demonstration of self-interest, a very high and sophisticated level.
It’s lovely to participate and observe people so open to innovation and creativity, yet with a strong sense of what’s required.” As the committee representation demonstrates, people from every discipline can and will play a critical role in the development of the ITC. The committee’s plan will help determine what core facilities and programs should be included in the ITC. Sonnenfeld expects to see an operating plan this summer.
“We hope to have things in place by fall and to begin moving people into the building in early 2006,” said Sonnenfeld. The operating plan will consider criteria for occupancy, space allocation and day-to-day operations, as well as for recommendations and expansion for the future. The initial template for occupancy will reinforce the University’s commitment to promote interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary interactions, he added. “The building will be occupied by people who want to move in and a variety of departments will be involved,” said Sonnenfeld. “Hopefully, we’ll have 25 to 30 principal investigators. Some will be new and some will move because they have an interest in being there.
“We want to try something that is different and will enhance both the academic strength and vitality of the University as well as help with economic development of the region,” he said. “We want faculty and staff who want to be involved to have an easy route to do so.” The committee will have a revolving membership and will maintain continuity over time, replacing one member with another from the same discipline or school. It will continue, perhaps in a smaller version, to move forward with the planning and development of the ITC over the next three to five years.