Tech Square’s corporate innovation research centers reflect growing trend

tech-square-1It used to be corporate research and development was always done in-house and inside labs bunkered away from other units within a company and far away from competitors.


Now, that approach is no longer ideal.


The new model, according to a report in the Harvard Business Review, is what the Georgia Institute of Technology, along with its partners, has created with Technology Square, home to 12 corporate innovation centers, including Home Depot, Coca-Cola Enterprises, and Delta Air Lines.


“What’s driving companies to relocate near urban universities is the changing role of innovation within the private sector as firms are increasingly relying on external sources to support technology development,” the report’s authors, Scott Andes and Bruce J. Katz, conclude.


Andes is senior policy analyst and associate fellow of the Anne T. and Robert M. Bass Initiative on Innovation and Placemaking at the Brookings Institution, a Washington-based, non-profit public policy think tank. Katz is the Brookings Institution’s inaugural centennial scholar.


Tech Square and the surrounding Midtown neighborhood offer what major corporations seek: proximity to a major research university and various cultural among social amenities, as well as an atmosphere that fosters collaboration, and making connections between startups clustered in the are and the large corporate firms.


The authors also note that Georgia Tech is particularly successful in drawing corporate innovation centers because the Institute also focuses on bringing research to market and commercializing ideas into actual companies.


“Georgia Tech is a national leader at spinning off startups: VentureLab, a university-run business accelerator, is ranked second in the world,” Andes and Katz write. “Georgia Tech’s incubator, the Advanced Technology Development Center, helps create successful startups by connecting entrepreneurs to mentors, capital, and customers.”


Read the full report at this link.

National Science Foundation awards StarMobile $500K funding grant

Raghupathy Sivakumar, StarMobile's co-founder and chief technology officer.
Raghupathy Sivakumar, StarMobile’s co-founder and chief technology officer.

StarMobile, a leading codeless, cloud-based solution centered on faster, simpler, and lower-cost delivery of enterprise mobility, has been awarded a $500,000 Phase IIB Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF).


The startup, which is incubating in Georgia Tech’s Advanced Technology Development Center’s (ATDC) Signature program, said it will continue its work toward enabling rapid mobilization of enterprise applications. ATDC works with entrepreneurs looking to build successful technologies in Georgia.


StarMobile also is a graduate of Tech’s VentureLab startup incubator, ranked No. 2 in North America. VentureLab, a sister incubation program to ATDC in Tech’s Enterprise Innovation Institute (EI2), works with Georgia Tech faculty, students, and staff to help them validate and commercialize their research and ideas into viable companies.


Raghupathy Sivakumar, StarMobile’s co-founder and chief technology officer, is a telecommunications, computer systems, and software professor at Georgia Tech and the Wayne J. Holman Chair in Tech’s School of Electrical and Computer Engineering.


“This Phase IIB SBIR award is a significant milestone for us, as the rigorous NSF selection process for Phase II proposals results in only 15 percent of Phase I grants receiving Phase II awards, and even fewer receiving Phase IIB awards,” said Sivakumar in a statement. “This award is an important validation that StarMobile has created a Rapid Mobile Application Development (RMAD) platform that transforms how enterprises mobilize their systems. This award provides support for further development of our core technology and will help us accelerate our go-to-market plans.”


The award is based on progress in product, market, and business model validation under a $750,000 NSF SBIR Phase II grant awarded to StarMobile in 2013, and research conducted under a $150,000 NSF SBIR Phase I grant awarded to StarMobile in 2012. StarMobile has now received a total of $1.4 million in grant awards from the NSF SBIR program as part of their efforts to foster innovative technologies.


The NSF Small Business Innovation Research/Small Business Technology Transfer (SBIR/STTR) program seeks to transform scientific discovery into societal and economic benefit by catalyzing private sector commercialization of technological innovations. The program increases the incentive and opportunity for startups and small businesses to undertake cutting-edge, high-quality scientific research and development. NSF SBIR/STTR grants not only address research and development funding, they also give recipients training in key business areas. Grant awardees also receive mentorship from program directors who have extensive industry experience.


The NSF SBIR/STTR program awards funds in every area of science and engineering.


Péralte C. Paul

Zyrobotics wins $750K National Science Foundation grant

By Péralte C. Paul

Ayanna MacCalla Howard
Ayanna MacCalla Howard

The National Science Foundation (NSF) awarded Zyrobotics a $750,000 Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Phase II grant that continues the startup’s work in developing an accessible educational platform for children with special needs.


Launched in September 2013 by Ayanna Howard, the Linda J. and Mark C. Smith Chair professor in the Georgia Institute of Technology’s School of Electrical and Computer Engineering, the company is commercializing assistive technology that enables children with limited mobility to operate tablet computers, smartphones, toys, gaming apps, and interactive robots.


“We are extremely excited about the opportunities that this NSF SBIR grant provides,” said Howard, who is the company’s chief technology officer. “It helps Zyrobotics to continue to evolve as a leader in inclusive smart mobile technologies by enhancing our ability to develop accessible learning systems that engage and empower children with special needs and enhance their quality of life.”


Specifically, the Phase II project aims to focus on the development of an accessible educational platform that combines mobile interfaces and adaptive educational tablet applications (apps) to support the requirements of children with special needs. While tablet devices have given those children an interactive experience that has revolutionized their learning, in its proposal, Zyrobotics notes that while some tablet devices are intuitive in use and easy for lots of kids, those with disabilities are largely overlooked due to difficulties in effecting pinch-and-swipe gestures.


“This project thus addresses a direct need in our society by providing an integrated educational experience, focused on math education that addresses the diverse needs of children, while providing a solution for variations found in their disabilities,” the company wrote in its grant proposal. “This SBIR Phase II project addresses an unmet need by developing an innovative solution to enable children with motor disabilities access to mobile devices and apps that could engage them fully into the educational system.”


In this next phase, Howard and her team plan to design accessible math apps geared to children with or without disabilities in kindergarten through 12th grade. The company also plans to design another set of apps that adapt educational content and provide feedback to parents and teachers based on real-time analytics.


The company says it sees ample market opportunity for its products both domestically and abroad. Here in the United States, children with disabilities are entitled to a free and appropriate public education, and Zyrobotics sees its products as addressing that need from both a commercial and societal standpoint. Worldwide, more than 93 million children live with a disability.


When founded, the company went through Georgia Tech’s VentureLab startup incubator, ranked No. 2 in North America. VentureLab, a unit of Tech’s Enterprise Innovation Institute (EI2), works with Georgia Tech faculty, students, and staff to help them validate and commercialize their research and ideas into viable companies.


Zyrobotics is now part of Tech’s Advanced Technology Development Center (ATDC), a sister startup incubator program that serves all of Georgia. Zyrobotics, with the help of ATDC’s SBIR program, was able to receive its Phase I award in 2015, laying the groundwork for the Phase II grant.


“Zyrobotics is a wonderful Georgia Tech startup, based on the fine research in Dr. Howard’s lab, and enhanced by a very successful journey through the NSF I-Corps program,” said Keith McGreggor, VentureLab’s director. “This is a great example of how the research done in the classroom and lab, followed by idea validation, can lead to real breakthroughs that are designed to have a lasting impact on the lives touched by the technologies that Dr. Howard has created.”

I-Corps Puerto Rico wins “Best Startup Program of the Year” award

By Péralte C. Paul


Picture2The H3 Tech Conference, Latin America’s premier innovation event that brings together hackers, the startup community, and the creative economy, named I-Corps Puerto Rico the “Best Startup Program of the Year.”


I-Corps Puerto Rico, which is a program of the Georgia Institute of Technology’s Startup Ecosystems group, is a five-week, hands-on program designed to teach small teams of entrepreneurs how to launch innovative businesses through the fundamentals of the Customer Discovery method and the Business Model Canvas.


The initiative, which is entering its third year on the Caribbean island, is a collaborative effort of the Puerto Rico Science and Technology Trust, Grupo Guayacán, and Tech’s VentureLab startup incubator and commercialization program.


“This is an important milestone for us that underscores the work we have been doing in Puerto Rico these last two years,” said David Bridges, Startup Ecosystems’ director. “We have been working with our partners there to help strengthen the island’s startup network, using the proven I-Corps model.”


Startup Ecosystems helps governments, communities, foundations, entrepreneurs, and small businesses foster value creation by applying innovative ideas, technology, and policy to initiatives focused on economic growth.


The I-Corps Puerto Rico model is based on the National Science Foundation’s Innovation Corps (I-Corps) program. The initiative is designed to prepare scientists and engineers to look beyond their laboratory research to commercialize their findings. It also aims to broaden the impact of select, NSF-funded, basic-research projects.


VentureLab runs the I-Corps program in the Southeast.


“We’re happy the I-Corps Puerto Rico model has been recognized by the H3 Tech Conference,” said Keith McGreggor, VentureLab’s director. “It’s proven to help scientists and researchers become successful entrepreneurs, and our mission here in Puerto Rico is to help drive the growth of the startup ecosystem.”


The ultimate goal of the I-Corps Puerto Rico efforts is to help these entrepreneurs get to a point where together, they create a greater startup ecosystem that can become self-sustaining, Bridges said.


“Through the partnership with Georgia Tech to deliver I-Corps Puerto Rico, we have realized the great value that our entrepreneurs — at different stages of development — can get from going out there and talking to their customers,” said Laura Cantero, Grupo Guayacán’s executive director. “The experience has helped us introduce elements of the Customer Discovery method into every one of our programs and activities.”


Grupo Guayacán, headquartered in San Juan, is a non-profit organization that works with entrepreneurs, private equity investment entities, and programs such as I-Corps Puerto Rico to help the island’s entrepreneurial ecosystem develop and grow.


To date, nearly 40 entrepreneurial teams have gone through I-Corps Puerto Rico, representing a variety of industries ranging from life sciences to information technology, among others. A third cohort of I-Corps Puerto Rico will begin in April of this year.


“The program has allowed Guayacán to tap into new sources and pockets of innovation with great commercialization potential, including our top universities and research centers,” Cantero said. “One of our proudest achievements has been the acceptance of one of our I-Corps Puerto Rico Alumni into the national I-Corps program. This milestone proves the quality of our local entrepreneurial talent and signals that we’re moving in the right direction.”