Ohio Venture - OVA Review Newsletter
News from the Ohio Venture Association meeting on December 10, 2010

Keynote Address:

Dr. Frank Douglas
President & CEO,
Austen BioInnovation Institute in Akron

The new Austen BioInnovation Institute in Akron, a collaboration of several area research institutions, has an unprecedented opportunity to become a national model and to help make Akron the Polymer Valley of the world, the institute's leader told OVA members at their December luncheon.

"There is this tremendous (polymer and innovation) legacy here, and there's this real focus on the community," Dr. Frank Douglas said. "We really believe that Akron can become the Polymer Valley of the world. And I remind people that DNA is polymer. So when we talk about polymer, we're not just talking about rubber, we're talking about life. Life is made up of polymers."

The institute is a closely watched collaboration between the University of Akron, Akron Children's Hospital, Summa Health System, Akron General and Northeastern Ohio Universities Colleges of Medicine and Pharmacy (NEOUCOM). The Knight Foundation provided much of the initial funding, but Dr. Douglas noted that First Energy anted up the first $10 million. Last year, the institute was one of six winners of a national challenge grant sponsored by the U.S. Department of Commerce, the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation.

Dr. Frank, who is also a professor of polymer science at Akron U., a professor of integrated medical sciences at NEOUCOM, and a senior fellow of the Kaufmann Foundation, was recently recognized by GQ magazine as a rock star of science. A native of British Guyana who has worked in the pharmaceutical industry, he was also founder and first executive director of MIT's Center for Biomedical Innovations, one of the chief models for the ABIA. But he resigned his directorship to protest the university's refusal to grant tenure to a colleague.

He says he still frequently gets questioned by former colleagues: "Tell me again why you're in Akron, tell me again why you won't return to MIT or Harvard." His answer: "I have always asked myself the question: after I'm gone, what's the legacy?...This focus, not only on improving the health, but the economic well-being of the region, is the opportunity to leave behind a legacy. Those are the reasons I came to Akron, and they remain the reasons why I am still here."

He said he wants the institute to become nationally distinct in patient-centered innovation and commercialization. He added that collaboration, cost-effectiveness and commercialization are the key words driving his approach.

The first order of business, he said, was to begin building the collaboration ecosystem. "From the time I arrived, I said it's wonderful that we have this desire to work together. That doesn't mean we know how to do it." Under his leadership, the institute has begun an innovation idea portal, where researchers can submit their ideas. Eight have received funding thus far. "Synergy seminars" have also been established, bringing problem owners and solution providers together in mutual conversations about challenges and potential solutions.

"If you're going to innovate, I believe in rapid prototyping. Make something, try it out, learn from it, and modify it," he said. The institute has also launched the Akron Medical Device Development Center and the Akron Functional Material Center. The latter is an industrial collaboration between AU's polymer science dept., ABIA and a number of companies, collaborating in the search for new commercially viable biomaterials.

It's a big job, but one that he finds crucial, he said. "In a real sense, we're looking at the Mt. Everest of social and medical transformation. And it's worth doing, because when you get to the top, the view is just incredible."

More information:

Webcast from the Meeting:

Click on the image below to view the entire presentation as video.

Video Webcast from Recent Meeting
Webcast produced by Tom Kondilas.

Upcoming Meetings:

February 11, 2011
Venture Capital Summit VI

March 11, 2011
Bill Sanford

April 8, 2011
Mike Bunker

Early Stage Partners
Steve Spoonamore
ABS Materials
Jason Rottenberg
Arsenal Venture Partners

May 13, 2011
Charles Stack
Sideways LLC

See complete details and registration for these events.

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