An online marketplace where innovators can network worldwide with university researchers and entrepreneurs — the iBridge Network intellectual property database — is coming to Omaha.
Omaha's Innovation Accelerator will through its foundation host the database, developed by the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation of Kansas City, at the Scott Data Center near the University of Nebraska at Omaha's Aksarben campus.
“iBridge, for me, is infrastructure for an age of innovation,” said Walter Scott Jr., a former Kiewit CEO whose foundation funded the Scott Data Center and Scott Technology Center.
The transfer will be announced today at an event at Mutual of Omaha, where speakers will include Scott; Dan Neary, CEO and chairman of the board of Mutual of Omaha; and Teresa Stanek Rea, deputy director of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.
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“Here is the world's largest intellectual property platform and when anybody goes to find more information about that, Omaha is what they'll see,” said Anna Bley, the Innovation Accelerator Foundation's web innovations director.
While it's not important to iBridge users where the data is located, hosting it in Omaha will enable the foundation to develop networking events and technology conferences here around the project, Bley said.
“We'll be bringing some of those leading, cutting-edge innovators here to Omaha.”
Omaha is already known as part of the “Silicon Prairie,” but the firms that Innovation Accelerator works with are working in “difficult science,” said Ken Moreano, president of the Scott Data Center and executive director of the Scott Technology Center.
Innovation Accelerator is the private component of a public-private partnership with the National Science Foundation's Small Business Innovation Research Program.
The firms it works with are involved in nanotechnology, semiconductor chips and robotics, Moreano said.
“Those are typically not seen in the Midwest,” he said. “That changes the complexion of the innovation space in our community.”
He said Kauffman had a relationship with Innovation Accelerator and chose its foundation to take control of and expand the asset. It didn't hurt that the Scott Data Center recently received third-party certification in design and construction from the Uptime Institute, and last summer completed a major renovation that added space and electrical capacity.
The network is not expected to become a moneymaker; it will still be free for universities to use, although there will be some premium licensing services offered at a cost, Bley said.
iBridge has more than 10,000 members who can use it to access innovations developed by about 170 universities and research organizations, including the University of Nebraska system.
There are more than 22,000 innovations in areas that include agriculture, biotechnology, gene therapy, medical devices and computer hardware and software.
“What iBridge is attempting to do is take that research and help it find its way out of the universities and into the marketplace,” Bley said.
She believes Innovation Accelerator Foundation can improve on the network. Within the year, the foundation will release a second version of iBridge with more networking functions, which Bley said would attract a larger membership and audience, help them interact and lead to more licensing activity.
Improvements to iBridge would be welcome, said Michael Dixon, president and CEO at UNeMed, which works to commercialize biomedical innovations coming out of the University of Nebraska Medical Center.
Dixon said iBridge is a good idea but hasn't led to any “direct hits” for UNeMed, which operates its own marketing and patent research offices and tends to find licensing deals through direct marketing. He said iBridge could use improvement to its search functions and could be made more user-friendly and interactive.
“I think iBridge has struggled,” he said. “It's more of a passive site — the information just sits there and someone has to come find it.”
But he said it's easy to upload information to iBridge, it's a good one-stop shop for locating technologies and it has the potential to grow.
“I think that's great for Omaha to have something like that here,” he said. “The brand is there, but the key is getting people to utilize it.”
David Conrad, executive director of Lincoln's NUtech Ventures, an NU office that connects ideas and innovations to the private sector, said he sees potential in using the platform as an internal bridge to technology providers throughout Nebraska.
“Currently, we encounter people looking for technologies but often don't know what is available at other institutions,” Conrad said. “This lack of knowledge results in missed opportunities. I'm excited about the possibility of using the iBridge searchable platform to better connect all of us in the rapidly growing innovation economy throughout Nebraska.”
Mike McGinnis, executive director at the Peter Kiewit Institute, is working to expand the school's research focus and create opportunities for students to innovate and commercialize their ideas.
While PKI does not yet have a portfolio to post to iBridge, McGinnis said the school eventually will use the network to showcase its own intellectual property as well as to find and partner with other researchers working in disciplines such as information technology, computer science and biomedical engineering.
He described a growing network of connections in Omaha among people who work in research, academia, entrepreneurship and the established business community.
“What we're after is attracting talent and forming companies to ride the next wave of breakthroughs that can keep a city like Omaha vibrant.”
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