The Need (Updated 2/1/17)
According to Forbes magazine, "small business is - quite frankly - big business" (Leinbach-Rehyle, 2014). Nationally, 63% of new jobs have come from small businesses. 90% of start-ups fail, and only 50% of small businesses survive five years or more (Forbes, 1/2015). In our energy-centric State of Oklahoma, diversification is necessary to ensuring economic stability. One of the best ways to diversify is by doing a better job of supporting business start-ups, expansions, and innovators.
The Idea (1/17)
The Oklahoma Center for the Advancement of Science & Technology (OCAST) is one way in which the State provides funding to entrepreneurs and inventors. Businesses and inventors apply to the Inventors Assistance Service. The applicant's ideas are vetted for feasibility, and checked for patent infringement. Once approved, applicants are sent to the New Product Development Center (NPDC), operated under the auspices of OCAST, to get help with the design of their inventions, and to make connections to other funding sources. If approved, NPDC assists the entrepreneur/inventor with funding through OCAST's sources.
The missing link (refer to Missing Link Project Chart for OCAST) is how to support businesses who need to produce a prototype that they can test and get mass produced or, how to economically produce limited runs of a "part"they need to improve operations/efficiencies. This is a critical period for the business as it needs time to secure capital to make the parts itself, or the prototype to demonstrate that it can provide a return on investment for potential investors.
Herein enters the partnership between OSU Institute of Technology (OSUIT) and OCAST. Initially, the NPDC will connect businesses that need assistance with the manufacturing program at OSUIT. Over time, and with proven successes, the partnership will expand to include other programs such as civil engineering technologies, electronics/instrumentation, and other degree programs offered through OSUIT. Faculty and students will meet with the entrepreneurs/inventors to discuss needs and will engage in real, hands-on projects to produce the prototypes and limited runs.
Current Versus Proposed Process (Added 2/7/17)
Currently, if entrepreneurs/innovators are interested in producing a prototype, the process means working through multiple organizations (“touch”) who handle a single piece of the work, and don’t know or understand how its separate parts, the final product, will work. Each “touch” is a potential opportunity for derailment, or at the very least, a potentially large outlay of time and money.
In the graphic below, the innovator is an amputee who would like to ski once again. There are four touch points: 1) convey the idea to the designer, 2) conduct an initial fitting with an orthotic specialist, 3) manufacture the piece, and 4) ensure the prosthetic is properly designed and fitted. Each "touch" may be wholly developed without any knowledge of how all parts will fit together, and may result in time delays or additional cash outflow--both contributing factors to business failures.
The proposed approach (see graphic below) condenses the current process from a multi-stage path to one interface path, reducing potential derailments that can occur in a multi-stage process (e.g., time, money, poor fit, etc.). OSUIT’s faculty and students interact with the entrepreneur to understand the concept, how the product will be used, and then produce what is necessary by determining the best way to move the concept from the product development stage through the manufacturing process, completely in-house.
Uniqueness of Idea (Updated 2/23/17)
The Oklahoma Manufacturing Alliance, an organization dedicated to supporting and advancing manufacturers, noted that many manufacturers don't have access to the equipment OSUIT has in its manufacturing labs, or to the level of technical expertise (faculty) and human resources, e.g., college students. Please see the video, Manufacturing Lab, for a description of the program/equipment.
These project relationships enable OSUIT to incorporate supplemental curriculum for classes, contextualizing learning for the students, and providing them with additional technical skills for their resume. Projects will be reviewed to determine modifications to the manufacturing curriculum as OSUIT must produce technicians whose competencies meet what industry demands. If manufacturing is heading in a direction that is not currently addressed by OSUIT's curriculum, i.e., five axis machines, CATIA software, etc., we can build this into the curriculum. And, it also provides a way for businesses who do not have representatives on our manufacturing advisory board, a voice for influencing the curriculum--what we teach, how, and certifications that students may earn on their way to the college degree.
Benefits to the Entrepreneur/Inventor:
* An economically feasible way to do limited runs and prototypes.
* Identify future workforce by working with college students.
* Relief in the form of additional time to secure capital and investors.
* Access to equipment they need, but don't have the wherewithal to purchase.
Benefits to the Student:
* Real work on real projects to build up in-demand technical skills.
* Earning money to pay for college expenses.
* Potential employment offers through businesses who utilize this service.
Benefits to the University:
* A revenue stream to reduce its dependency on tuition and fees.
* Discover trends and new directions for business that will affect what/how we teach.
* Networking that may result in future donations and board members.
Benefits to the State of Oklahoma:
* A new way to support start-ups and business expansions/innovations.
* Diversification of business to lessen dependency on energy.
* A workforce development program and way to address the skills gap shortage.
* Expansion of the tax base.
Pilot Project (Added 2/24/17)
The program will run at OSUIT, Pryor, OK. Our director and lead faculty are both engineers with many years of industry experience. This type of work is currently carried out. One of the projects is illustrated below.
After evaluating, using metrics described in a separate section, the program will be replicated at OSUIT, Okmulgee, OK.
Solicitation and Use of Feedback (Added 2/24/17)
We are in the process of developing a survey to distribute to OCAST clients. The NPDC Director has agreed to contact current clients and ask them to complete the surveys. We need to develop the questions that will help us collect the quantitative and qualitative data we need to make sure the program meets the needs of the people for whom it was designed.
We have, however, integrated feedback from administrators of all the partner organizations (OSUIT, OCAST, NPDC), and this led to the sections noted as (Added/Updated M/D/YY) in this document. OCAST acknowledged that there is a critical need for this service, and asked that we move quickly. The discussion led to the following:
- OCAST will provide a one-year investment of $30,000 to pay for a lead faculty.
- OSUIT must provide the match.
- OCAST would like to scale-up quickly with engineering and other programs.
- NPDC will work with OSUIT on funding and project work opportunities.