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Innovation Park to open in October

John Tierney | Friday, August 28, 2009

Innovation Park, a product development facility launched by the University, seeks to connect the private sector with the research arm of Notre Dame, according to Park President and Chief Executive Officer David Brenner.

After breaking ground last September, the Park is scheduled to open Oct. 23.

The businesses that will occupy the Park’s offices will “help take innovative ideas … to viable commercial enterprise,” Brenner said. Work at Innovation Park will concentrate on “the step beyond research,” as companies will develop practical uses for research performed by professors and students at the University.

Faculty members and graduate students are currently approaching Brenner with ideas for new businesses, he said. Many of the future clients of Innovation Park will be companies from the outside that are “looking to engage with the University,” Brenner said.

A relationship with the University is critical for companies seeking to work in Innovation Park, according to Brenner.

“We want to ensure that every one of our clients have a point of engagement with the University,” he said.

He cited using Notre Dame-owned patents and research and hiring the University’s faculty and staff as possible points of engagement.

The University views Innovation Park as a way to “take its research impact on the world to a higher level,” Brenner said.

Other major research universities “have a place for their ideas to go develop,” he said.

“We’re an ingredient for the University to get from where it is to where it wants to go.”

Currently, Notre Dame allows many of its innovative ideas to go elsewhere to develop, but Innovation Park should allow those ideas to stay in South Bend, according to Brenner.

Innovation Park looks to take companies to “a stage where they’re ready to grow,” Brenner said. It will help them build a support system and will encourage them to stay in the South Bend area when they are ready to grow.

“We want to make them feel like putting their roots down in the area,” he said.

Brenner said a similar product development park established by Purdue more than 20 years ago has added between 2,000 and 3,000 jobs in West Lafayette.

Undergraduate students have a role to play in Innovation Park, according to Brenner.

“A lot of companies are asking if there’s a role for students to play as interns or part time employees,” he said. “We’re working with the Career Center and student employment as we start to bring in clients. We want students in there helping with the work.”

Brenner also said that students will be hired to help run the building, as is the case in other buildings across campus.

“Students can learn useful life lessons,” he said. “We were very excited to have students around as interns over the summer.”

Innovation Park is funded by multiple sources, including federal, state and local governments, the University and private donors.

The economy has not delayed the Park’s opening, Brenner said. Companies are still interested in moving into the Park, and while “the economy slowed them in putting the pieces together,” it hasn’t been a real problem.

Many companies are currently in final negotiations to move into Innovation Park. Brenner said he expects occupancy to steadily build throughout the remainder of the year.