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    For the state’s food manufacturers, a Georgia Tech partnership is the secret ingredient to growth

    Just add engineers to the mix.

     

    Damon Nix inside the facilities of Project Open Hand, which prepares and delivers 4,500 freshly meals a day to seniors and people with chronic diseases. GaMEP helped the nonprofit reduce the time it takes to find and prep a meal in their cooler from 45 minutes to 1 minute.

    By Michael Baxter

    You would expect a building where vinegar is made to have a sour smell, highly pungent, perhaps with a whiff of apple. World Technology Ingredients (WTI) smells nothing like this. Their manufacturing facility, off a county two-lane in Jefferson, Georgia, has a vaguely mineral aroma. More dry than dank, and not altogether unpleasant.

     

    Maybe that’s because the vinegar made here isn’t destined for grocery store shelves, but for food preservation. It’s called buffered vinegar, an all-natural additive that protects meats and other products from microbes. WTI makes a lot of this vinegar, more than they used to in fact, and that’s partly because of Damon Nix.

     

    On this Friday afternoon, Nix is taking a visitor through WTI’s plant, pointing out its sectors and stations. Here’s the wet vinegar, seven titanic tanks and even more smaller ones, emitting a hiss-and-motor chorus of mechanized blending. Over here’s the powdered version, mixed in towering contraptions on chalky floors (that will later be cleaned), then heated, blended and bagged.

     

    Nix stops at a white board with dry-erase markings that tell another story of what’s going on inside the plant — one of continuous improvement. Sketched out are five days of the work week, four areas of focus (safety, performance, schedule, issues) and an assortment of metrics. One of WTI’s workers happens by, and after glancing at the white board, Nix congratulates him.

     

    “I think y’all are doing great,” he says. “These are good numbers.”

     

    Nix doesn’t work for WTI. He’s an industry manager for the Georgia Manufacturing Extension Partnership, or GaMEP, a Georgia Tech-based, engineering-centric program that helps small and mid-sized manufacturing companies in the state perform better. As the partnership’s food and beverage point person, Nix applies his industrial engineering education from Tech to help manufacturers up their game and lower their costs.

     

    “What I really do is facilitate problem solving,” says Nix (B.S., ISyE, ’01). He is careful to emphasize the facilitation part. He doesn’t arrive as the dreaded efficiency expert, handing down mandates and new processes to those on the floor. Rather, he operates as the quintessential engineer — conducting research, listening to people, and fostering ownership of change. When he introduces new knowledge, such as time-tested principles of lean manufacturing and quality control, it’s more as a coach guiding a player who’s motivated to improve.

     

    “In organizations that really succeed, teams are empowered by top management,” he says. “The team has to own the process. I could go to a meeting and offer a bunch of ideas, but half of them wouldn’t be nearly as good as what people inside the company put forward and act on.”

     

    Rise of an engineering partnership

     

    Georgia Tech has been in the game of helping small and mid-sized manufacturers for a long time. A century ago, the idea of creating an engineering counterpart to America’s agricultural experiment stations was being debated in Congress. But the Georgia General Assembly didn’t wait for the debate to conclude — it voted in 1919 to launch an “engineering experiment station” (EES) at Georgia Tech.

     

    Curiously, lawmakers didn’t fund the new enterprise. It wasn’t until 1934, midway through the Great Depression, that EES got its first state allocation of $5,000 and was assigned an acting director, Harry Vaughn, who described the experiment station as “Georgia's first agency designed to aid in a comprehensive development of industry.”

     

    In 1960, the General Assembly ratcheted up Georgia Tech’s assistance to industry, passing a bill to form an Industrial Extension Service as part of the earlier EES. That authorized Georgia Tech to create field offices around the state to provide “technical advice and assistance to local development groups and to establish(ed) business and industry.” The new service was the forerunner of today’s GaMEP. The partnership sharpened its focus on manufacturing in 1988 after Congress passed a national program, the Hollings Manufacturing Extension Partnership. The Industrial Extension Service was later designated GaMEP as one of 70 MEP affiliates. (EES, by the way, later became GTRI, the Georgia Tech Research Institute.)

     

    GaMEP, which turns 60 next year, is today housed inside Georgia Tech’s Enterprise Innovation Institute — a good fit, given its economic development focus. With 10 offices throughout Georgia, it now has a solid track record of helping small and mid-sized manufacturers grow. One of these is Dalton-based Precision Products, which manufactures a wide range of parts to order and has achieve two crucial ISO certifications that opened the door to new customers and industries. Sales grew by more than $3.5 million. And Goldens’ Foundry and Machine Co., a 130-year-old enterprise, wanted to strengthen employee communication and problem solving. GaMEP helped them introduce a management system designed to bring company conversations to the plant floor and improve information flow.

     

    Packaging insight into food processing

     

    One area historically underserved by GaMEP is the food and beverage industry. “It’s the state’s top manufacturing sector,” Nix says, “yet it had not been our number one customer.” So, in 2016, he was assigned to develop an initiative to broaden and deepen partnerships with businesses in the industry.

     

    Driving much of the food and beverage industry’s growth in Georgia are companies of 50 or fewer employees. These are the makers of local craft beers, hometown jellies and artisan mustards. Nix says about eight of 10 food processing companies fit that size profile, though they are dwarfed in sales by the other 20 percent, the larger manufacturers.

     

    So he developed a market analysis and concluded that super-sizing a commitment to food and beverage would be a good fit. The demand was there, too. Food processing employs nearly 70,000 Georgians and accounts for $12 billion of the state’s GDP every year, according to a 2016 report from Georgia Power. Since GaMEP stepped up efforts to serve the industry in 2017, the average number of projects with food and beverage companies more than doubled, from 20 to 45.

     

    When asked to describe the greatest problems facing these manufacturers, Nix quickly cites compliance with safety regulations, which, to a small food business, run from complex to bewildering. “If you’re in a business of 10 to 20 people, you may not have a food scientist on staff,” he says. “So, you’ve got to figure out compliance on your own, or else bring in consultants.”

     

    Safety, he notes, is more than just following protocols in production. It involves attending to details in reporting and paperwork, all the way down to the product label. Nix shares the cautionary tale of an Oregon maker of seasonings that neglected to include hazelnuts in its list of ingredients on the label. “Of course, nut allergies are a huge issue,” he says. “That one mistake could have ruined their entire product distribution. The damage to the brand, and the cost of bringing back the brand, is so significant.”

     

    While GaMEP knew it could help food companies in an array of ways — from process management to energy usage to business growth — leaders found they had a gap in food science expertise. Food science determines the safety profile of every jar, tin, box and bag of product. So they brought in a food manufacturing safety whiz, Wendy White, who had experience overseeing a portfolio of food products. White is now leading a new GaMEP program on safety, funded by a three-year grant totaling nearly $1 million.

     

    For the ingredients company WTI, the primary challenge has not been safety but improving processes and efficiency. When asked what impact he’s seen from GaMEP’s help, Stephan Georg, the company’s director of strategic sourcing, recounts a conversation between a shift foreman and consultant in front of one of the Gemba white boards.

     

    “The foreman said the plan was to make two batches of a product,” Georg says, “but the consultant answered, ‘Well, I think you can do five batches. The foreman thought that was unrealistic. So we brought in Georgia Tech, and the first thing Damon does is conduct time studies. It gave us that baseline information we needed. After that groundwork, we determined that three batches would be a good goal.”

     

    Since then, Nix has visited with workers from WTI’s round-the-clock shifts and consulted with management. Together, they work through improvements born out of lean manufacturing, which are processes engineered to reduce waste and improve customer satisfaction. The goal is to reach 40 percent overall equipment effectiveness for producing buffered vinegar, a metric built on several components of the manufacturing process.

     

    More recently, Nix introduced a new tool to these efforts: A software platform called Impruver, developed out of Georgia Tech’s Advanced Technology Development Center (ATDC). It’s designed to help small and mid-sized manufacturers of consumer products spot trends in metrics, track performance and monitor ongoing issues. “It’s great to have another entity inside ATDC working with us and our clients,” Nix says.

     

    While all of GaMEP’s contributions are welcomed, Stephan Georg has special praise for the non-engineering side of Damon Nix. “While he looks at the facts and explains things in a scientific way, he also treats people here with respect,” Georg says. “They see that he’s not here to get them fired. He’s the guy who’s here to help.”

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    Innovation Ecosystems Gives Presentation on Innovation and Entrepreneurship at Peru's Semana Internacional del Emprendimiento

    Mónica Novoa, an Innovation Ecosystems program manager, gives a presentation to attendees of the Semana Internacional del Emprendimiento at the Universidad del Pacífico in Lima, Peru.

    During the week of Nov. 11-15, I had the honor of participating in the 10th edition of Semana Internacional del Emprendimiento at Universidad del Pacífico in Lima, Perú. As program manager of the Innovation Ecosystems program at the Georgia Institute of Technology, I was invited by Emprende UP, the Universidad del Pacífico’s business innovation and incubation center, to give a presentation about our collaboration on a project of capacity building and strengthening of the incubator’s programs and staff.

     

    I also had the opportunity to speak about the innovation and entrepreneurship ecosystem in Atlanta and at Georgia Tech. The audience included Peruvian government officials, academic and private sector leaders, faculty, students, and entrepreneurs from the country’s leading universities.

     

    We have been collaborating with Emprende UP since November 2016 on a project funded by Innóvate Perú under the National Contest for the Strengthening of Business Incubators. Under this project, our goal with Emprende UP was to create a framework of knowledge transfer and best practices in business incubation and acceleration to the Emprende UP staff.

     

    Mónica Novoa (third from left), stands with Universidad del Pacífico officials.

    In total, we completed three main tasks — an evaluation of the incubator’s programs and operations, an immersion program in innovation and business incubation at Georgia Tech, and a strategic capacity building workshop in Lima, on key topics around business incubation and technology transfer, with particular emphasis on the financial technology (FinTech) industry.

     

    As a result of this project, the Emprende UP team strengthened its knowledge and expertise in entrepreneurship methods like Customer Discovery, Lean Startup, and Design Thinking. The team also incorporated these concepts to its incubation and acceleration programs.

     

    In addition, we validated Emprende UP’s programs structure and its operations model based on a benchmarking against our sister program at Georgia Tech, the Advance Technology Development Center (ATDC), and a leading university incubator in Chile.

     

    Emprende UP is one of 21 incubators that have received funds from Innóvate Perú and is consistently recognized as one of that nation’s leading organizations in the entrepreneurship ecosystem. Through this collaboration, we successfully transferred new knowledge and tools to the Emprende UP team so it can further provide the valuable startup incubation programs and services for which it is known.

     

    It was an intense, vibrant week packed with outstanding presentations and meetings. I met amazing people and learned a lot about the innovation and entrepreneurship ecosystem in Lima and Perú, and returned to Georgia Tech energized and very optimistic about the future of entrepreneurship in Perú.

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    Tim Israel named director of Georgia Manufacturing Extension Partnership
    Tim Israel

    GaMEP Director Tim Israel.

    The Enterprise Innovation Institute (EI2), Georgia Tech’s economic development arm, has named Tim Israel, director of the Georgia Manufacturing Extension Partnership (GaMEP).

     

    Israel, who had been GaMEP’s associate director and group manager of process improvement, will be responsible for the manufacturing resources and regional staff located across Georgia.

     

    He succeeds Karen Fite, who was named interim vice president of EI2in July of 2019.

     

    The GaMEP, EI2’s longest running and largest program, works with manufacturers across the state to offer innovation- and solutions-based approaches via consulting, couching, and education.

     

    A member organization of the National MEP network and supported by the National Institute of Standards and Technology, the GaMEP’s main goal is to help manufacturers increase top line growth and reduce bottom costs.

     

    “Tim has done an outstanding job in leading our efforts to work with Georgia manufacturers in increasing their efficiencies and process improvements, especially in waste reduction, streamlining operations, and quality control systems implementation,” Fite said. “His experience and expertise, as well as his vast and deep relationships within Georgia Tech and with our GaMEP partners ensures continued success of our mission.”

     

    Israel, a 30-year veteran at Georgia Tech, began his career as a project engineer in Tech’s Gainesville Regional Office. He also served as a project manager in Georgia Tech’s Georgia Productivity and Quality Center (GPQC) and the Center for International Standards and Quality (CISQ).

     

    An expert in lean manufacturing, quality management systems, and supplier development, Israel earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in industrial engineering from Georgia Tech.

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    Karen Fite to Lead Enterprise Innovation Institute as Interim Vice President

    Karen Fite.

    The Georgia Institute of Technology has named Karen Fite interim vice president of its economic development unit, the Enterprise Innovation Institute (EI2).

     

    Fite, who is EI²’s associate vice president, will lead the 12-program organization while Georgia Tech conducts a national search for a permanent vice president to succeed Chris Downing, who retired in June after 31 years of service.

     

    EI2is the nation’s largest and most comprehensive university-based program of business and industry assistance, technology commercialization, and economic development.

     

    Fite, who also is director of EI2’s Business & Industry Services group of programs, has more than 26 years of economic development experience at Tech.

     

    The Business & Industry Services group includes the Georgia Manufacturing Extension Partnership (GaMEP), EI2’s largest economic development offering.

     

    It also includes:

     

    “As director of business and industry services, Karen has successfully provided leadership in critical areas of economic development. We have full confidence that she will continue EI2’s momentum and reach in Georgia and beyond as we conduct the search for a permanent vice president,” said Chaouki Abdallah, Georgia Tech’s executive vice president for research.

     

    “She brings an enormous wealth of expertise and critical understanding to economic development and how to connect businesses, manufacturers, and communities to Georgia Tech’s vast innovation and technology resources to elevate their competitive position and economic impact.”

     

    With state and federal support, for example, EI2’s 160-member staff operate a statewide network of assistance to Georgia manufacturers through the GaMEP and supports commercialization of Georgia Tech faculty research via its VentureLab offering.

     

    A globally recognized model for university-based economic development, EI2— through its Economic Development Lab program — is tapped across the state, nationally, and internationally to help communities and organization innovate in business incubation and commercialization, strategic planning, and economic sustainability.

     

    Other programs include assisting in the growth and development of technology startups through the Advanced Technology Development Center (ATDC), serving minority-owned businesses, and advising companies across the Southeast that have been affected by foreign trade.

     

    Previously, Fite was GaMEP’s state regional network manager and led a team of 10 regional managers in their outreach efforts.

     

    She was an RAB-certified Quality Management Systems Lead Auditor, and as a member of the Center for International Standards and Quality (CISQ), she provided implementation assistance and training to companies pursuing ISO 9001. She has expertise in assisting companies in the implementation of Lean Principles in manufacturing, government and healthcare entities.

    Her earlier experience includes the application of industrial and management engineering, employee involvement, and business principles.

     

    Fite has a master’s degree in business administration from the University of Miami and a bachelor’s in health systems from Georgia Tech.In 2018, she achieved the faculty rank of principal extension professional, the Georgia Tech’s highest professional extension faculty rank.

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    Georgia Institute of Technology and Morehouse School of Medicine Announce Collaborative Effort for Health Technology Startup Development

    Initiative aims to expand Morehouse School of Medicine’s research commercialization efforts, and support focus on the needs of underserved minority and rural populations.

     

    Morehouse School of Medicine

    The Morehouse School of Medicine.

    ATLANTA (July 9, 2019) — The Georgia Institute of Technology and Morehouse School of Medicine (MSM) today announced the launch of a new initiative that will support MSM’s commercialization efforts to create health technology (HealthTech) startups.

     

    The effort brings the Institute’s globally recognized technology incubator — the Advanced Technology Development Center (ATDC) — to the MSM campus, ranked the No. 1 medical school in the nation in fulfilling its social mission and the top ranking historically black college or university for producing patents (2009-2019).

     

    “We’re excited to forge this effort between our two schools that will help translate ideas that may start in the lab to real-world solutions for minority and rural populations in healthcare,” said James W. Lillard, Ph.D., MSM’s associate dean for research and director of the Office of Translational Technologies. “This initiative leverages the research rigor and innovations developing at Morehouse School of Medicine with Georgia Tech’s proven ATDC model of helping technology entrepreneurs create viable, scalable companies.”

     

    The collaboration with MSM, the eighth for ATDC through its ATDC @program, continues the incubator’s mission of working with technology startups across Georgia. The catalyst for this initiative was an i6 Challenge grant the U.S. Department of Commerce awarded to Georgia Tech in 2015.

     

    That $500,000 grant, secured by Tech's Innovation Ecosystems group, supported wide-ranging innovation and entrepreneurship initiatives across the state. In Atlanta, it called for the Institute to collaborate with Georgia State and Clark Atlanta universities, Morehouse College, the Morehouse School of Medicine, and Spelman College to develop entrepreneurship programs that supported their unique visions.

     

    The ATDC @ MSM will provide the medical school with a full suite of services and educational programming to support entrepreneurship in the HealthTech arena among faculty, staff, and students on the MSM campus. The core goal is to help entrepreneurs gain insight into successful HealthTech commercialization, through the program, which includes curriculum, connections, and coaching.

     

    ATDC was founded in 1980 to help technology entrepreneurs learn, launch, scale, and succeed in the creation of successful businesses in the state. Since its founding, ATDC has developed a global reputation for fostering technological entrepreneurship, with Forbes naming ATDC to its list of “Incubators Changing the World” in 2010 and 2013, alongside Y Combinator and the Palo Alto Research Center.

     

    Kirk Barnes, ATDC’s HealthTech catalyst, said the effort is a great example of how two world-class institutions can collaborate to create a medically-oriented innovation ecosystem. It also brings focus to the needs of minority and rural populations that are traditionally underserved from a medical standpoint, just as state leaders in Georgia are looking at the issue more closely.

     

    “This is a great collaborative undertaking that takes our "Startup Success, Engineered" model into the clinical setting and gives particular focus on black entrepreneurs who are an underrepresented community in tech,” Barnes said.

     

    “This will help expand the pace and flow of innovation and commercialization of research coming out of the Morehouse School of Medicine as well as give them access to the broader resources at Georgia Tech and the ATDC model will formalize and expedite how that happens.”

     

    About the Advanced Technology Development Center

    The Advanced Technology Development Center (ATDC), a program of the Georgia Institute of Technology, is the state of Georgia’s technology startup incubator. Founded in 1980 by the Georgia General Assembly which funds it each year, ATDC’s mission is to work with entrepreneurs in Georgia to help them learn, launch, scale, and succeed in the creation of viable, disruptive technology companies. Since its founding, ATDC has grown to become one of the longest running and most successful university-affiliated incubators in the United States, with its graduate startup companies raising more than $3 billion in investment financing and generating more than $12 billion in revenue in the state of Georgia. To learn more, visit atdc.org.

     

    About Morehouse School of Medicine

    Morehouse School of Medicine (MSM), located in Atlanta, Georgia, was founded in 1975 as a two-year Medical Education Program at Morehouse College with clinical training affiliations with several established medical schools for awarding the M.D. degree. In 1981, MSM became an independently chartered institution and the first medical school established at a Historically Black College and University in the 20th century. MSM is among the nation's leading educators of primary care physicians and was recently recognized as the top institution among U.S. medical schools for our social mission. Our faculty and alumni are noted in their fields for excellence in teaching, research, and public policy, and are known in the community for exceptional, culturally appropriate patient care.

    Morehouse School of Medicine is accredited by the Commission on Colleges of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools to award doctorate and master’s degrees. To learn more, visit msm.edu.

     

    About the Office of Translational Technologies

    The Office of Translational Technologiesat MSM was established in 2011 to leverage MSM’s intellectual property, research and infrastructure to develop and commercialize product and services that advance health equity. To learn more, visit msm.edu/Research/translational-technologies.

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