6:04 PM EDT, October 31, 2012
We've listened to endless blather during this campaign season about how tax cuts will create jobs. I think Bruce Carlson has a better idea. He's finding potentially viable products developed by private industries in the state that for some reason have not been brought to market, and finding ways to do so.
Carlson is a smart guy who has had an insider's perspective on the state's economy for three decades. He was policy director for the state's Office of Policy and Management, then chief of staff at the UConn Health Center, then a consultant to the Connecticut Center for Advanced Technology, the aerospace and technology incubator in East Hartford
Much has been written in the past few years about the importance of "technology transfer" from universities to the private market. Carlson's experience told him that while universities do have some technology to offer the market, the real opportunity is in corporate research. Connecticut was ranked fifth in the nation in industry-sponsored research and development, but only 37th in nonindustrial research, in the Kaufmann Foundation's 2010 State New Economy Index.
Carlson decided to find out if there might be gold in them thar labs. He started a company a year ago called the IP Factory (for intellectual property), sponsored by corporate donors and Connecticut Innovations Inc., the state's self-supporting tech investment agency.
His first thought was to go to major corporations and ask about dormant intellectual property: "What did you invent that you aren't using?" He soon realized that he was starting from too far behind the line. Things companies hadn't put money into "had quite a bit of dust on them." So he rephrased the question and asked about projects they had put development money into, but for some reason had suspended.
He said projects often are suspended for reasons that have nothing to do with the quality of the idea. For example, a large company might decided to bring a product forward only if it promised to make, say, $100 million. But Carlson figured some $50 or $75 million products would be worth the time and trouble.
His first project, a company called Signitsure Inc., illustrates the process. Pitney-Bowes developed a special ink that appears to be black but changes color under fluorescent light. Carlson said the product was intended for postal sorting, but took three years to develop, by which time the Postal Service had adopted a new sorting process.
Carlson's company is attempting to use the technology for medical prescription verification, and possibly for security in legal and government documents. They are hiring, and have another P-B project in their pipeline.
No company wants to give away the next dry copier or microchip. So Carlson has worked out an arrangement in which the company keeps a 20 percent equity stake in the new start-up, with the right to pull the product back if they need it.
While he's building the IP Factory, Carlson has another idea in the works, this one called "The Garage." There's a commercial subculture spreading across the country from California called the "maker movement," a bunch of high-tech tinkerers who are, as Time Magazine said, using the Web to democratize manufacturing.
He's talking about putting The Garage in the Colt complex when it gains national park status. What better place than the national headquarters of tinkering in the 19th century?
Carlson's efforts — the IP Factory recently got a plug on CNN Money — are not happening in a vacuum. The 6-year-old Yale Entrepreneurial Institute has nurtured dozens of start-up companies, and the university is a major part of Science Park, the state's most successful business incubator. Last week Gov. Dannel P. Malloy announced the launch of Connecticut's "Innovation Ecosystem," a public-private partnership aimed at developing new products and industries. It will offer financial, technical, professional and mentoring resources at hubs in Hartford, New Haven, Stamford and Storrs. Today, the Connecticut Technology Council is sponsoring an "Innovation Summit" in New Haven, featuring 75 tech start-up companies.
This is promising. Get enough of these new "makers," and they start networking, developing more stuff. Bright young people stay in the state. And the state gets back to what it ought to be doing — using good old Yankee ingenuity to make things and sell them.
Tom Condon can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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