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Innovation Park looks toward expansion

Laura McCrystal | Monday, January 31, 2011

Rich Carlton, a local entrepreneur, attended the groundbreaking ceremony at Notre Dame’s Innovation Park in 2008 as a member of the Chamber of Commerce for St. Joseph County.

At the time, Carlton did not envision himself participating in the Park, but today he is the president and COO of Data Realty, one of 30 client companies at Innovation Park.

“I saw it as an opportunity to be involved in a true community partnership between the community and the University,” Carlton said.

Innovation Park, located just south of Notre Dame’s campus, opened in October 2009 and provides short-term space and advisory services to entrepreneurs while they start new companies. Its client companies either have previous ties to the University or are looking to make connections to resources at Notre Dame.

Dave Brenner, Innovation Park’s president and CEO, describes the Park as a bridge between the University and the marketplace.

“We act as a commercialization bridge between the University and the marketplace,” Brenner said. “As a bridge, it’s not a final destination. People go from one side to the other.”

At Innovation Park, startup companies rent space for up to a year and are able to connect with Notre Dame students, faculty and research.

Being at Innovation Park allowed Carlton to find student interns from Notre Dame. While he has been in business in South BenAd for more than 15 years, he made connections with the University for the first time when Data Realty, his technology-based startup, came to Innovation Park in October.

“The interaction that I get here with the students is not only energizing, I’m just thoroughly impressed,” he said.

Other client companies come to Innovation Park because they already have connections to Notre Dame. Les Ivie, president of F cubed, is developing a molecular detection device based on technology that Hsueh-Chia Chang, a Notre Dame chemical and biomolecular engineering professor, invented.

After Ivie decided to start F cubed based on Chang’s technology of using carbon nanotubes to attract and detect certain types of DNA, he came to Innovation Park because he could be close to research at Notre Dame. While he is based in Chicago, Ivie travels to South Bend three days each week.

“It’s been good for us,” Ivie said. “Not only do we get support from Innovation Park, but we get a lot of support from the local community.”

Ivie said the common laboratory with special equipment at Innovation Park has been especially valuable in developing a molecular detection device that can quickly and easily test liquid samples. Applications of his device include doctors being able to diagnose patients with conditions such as influenza or strep throat in 15 minutes as opposed to several hours. In addition, it could test lake water and quickly determine whether it is safe to swim.

After F cubed is ready to move out of Innovation Park, Ivie said he plans to remain in South Bend.

“My three top scientists that work at Innovation Park moved to South Bend, one of them from Pittsburgh, one of them from Raleigh-Durham and the third one from Austin, Texas,” he said. “So our intention is to graduate and stay in the local area.”

Innovation Park is also “a good community of like-minded companies,” Ivie said.

Brenner said client companies at Innovation Park often communicate and collaborate with one another because they find things in common.

“That’s the secret sauce of what goes on in a park like this,” he said. “It’s very rare that a single individual has all the answers. They need to reach out to other people.”

While all 30 client companies at the Park, which include for-profit companies and non-profit social ventures, are startups, Brenner said he and his staff have learned to be flexible in advising each company.

“Without any definitive data to base it, we really had assumed we would get companies in different stages of development but that there would be a number of them that would have common needs so it would be easy to shape programs,” he said. “What we’ve learned is that we have 30 companies in different stages of development with different challenges.”

Feedback from client companies has been very positive, Brenner said, and in the future Innovation Park could look to expand, although it is not yet at full occupancy.

“We do have space here on this site for four buildings,” he said. “It’s an open, active issue sand we’re very pleased we have the space.”