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Recently South Bend ON had the opportunity to sit down with Pat McMahon, executive director of Project Future, to discuss in greater detail the Michiana TechConnection initiative. Nearly 18 months ago Project Future formed Michiana TechConnection, encompassing a group of business leaders from the community and across the U.S., as well as several key technology-based leaders from the University of Notre Dame.
|Pat McMahon, executive director of Project Future, and director of the Michiana TechConnection|
Q: What is Michiana TechConnection, and why was it founded?
A: The Michiana TechConnection, a regional venture, was founded to identify how our region could effectively transition newly developed technology into business activities here. To do so, we identified a multi-set process.
First, we took steps to identify and quantify those science and engineering research activities that hold the promise of new commercialization activity. Most important here was that we identified a review and assessment process that might be repeated on a regular basis.
Second, we then attempted to list those concepts that might lend themselves to new business activities here in our region, as opposed to one of the coasts or overseas. Marketplace, workforce, regional support capacity … these are all factors to be considered.
Third, we began a process of identifying our region’s capacity to step up to support emerging business activity, whether that occurs in a start-up or an existing business interested in new products. This capacity to “step up to support” is actually the keystone to the entire effort.
Our local businesses, area inventors and certainly our research laboratories have and will continue to generate business- and job-creating ideas. But can we create a system of support that will allow us to capture these ideas so that the business and job benefits occur here? Michiana TechConnection has attempted to identify just what that support structure needs to be. It is currently engaged in sizing and costing out this system.
Q: Who has been engaged in the Michiana TechConnection effort to date?
A: It consists of a small team of business, education and technical experts, combined with a strong set of consultants experienced in new business development and formation. Our focus was centered on assembling the expertise needed to identify issues, opportunities, gaps and possible solutions.
Q: And what have you found?
A: That our region has great ideas, and that a process can be established to evaluate them and their potential business impacts. That should be no surprise to anyone. However, as a regional collection of institutions, businesses, governments and individuals, we are not structured to provide all of the support needed to capture and grow these ideas into jobs here. To use just a few words, we need to establish programs that will provide talent and funding.
Q: Has this regional outreach begun?
A: We have had discussions about specific technologies and topics. The broader outreach is just starting. Even though we all knew from day one that this needs to end up as a regional initiative, we did not feel we could effectively bring all the regional players together until we created and tested a process that can be used to analyze challenges and opportunities and to develop a list of potential solutions. We are just now reaching that point, and beginning to engage others in this discussion. It is our hope that we will agree that opportunities exist here for all, and that a linked set of strategies and tactics might emerge that will fit our respective interests and capacities. When evaluating the base problem, we believe we assembled the expertise necessary to define the core issues and suggest options for action. We now need to be equally effective in organizing regional partners, which will allow for a vigorous review of the work done to date, discussions that will lead to meaningful engagements that will bridge the geography, communities and institutions of north central Indiana and southwestern Michigan.
Q: So what is your ultimate goal?
A: If successful, we will have created the business-friendly ‘ecosystem’ needed to transition the good and the great ideas originating in Michiana into new business activities and new jobs, just as effectively as new products and services were created back when our communities were populated by the research and development departments of many large regional and national manufacturing firms.
Q: As you move forward, what will be your biggest communication challenges?
A: While I’m not sure I know what all will be on that list, here is a start:
This takes time and does not happen overnight. We need to establish realistic expectations.
This is not a University of Notre Dame issue. While university researchers will undoubtedly continue to generate great concepts and ideas, the best and biggest may well come from a basement in South Bend, a garage in Jimtown or from inside an existing Nappanee business.
It will truly take the whole village to raise this child. More specifically, many children and many villages.
The returns will reflect investment and commitment, over time.