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Using their business expertise, Kellogg students partner with the greater Northwestern community through the INVO program to help university-bred innovations move into the world.

Using their business expertise, Kellogg students partner with the greater Northwestern community through the INVO program to help university-bred innovations move into the world.

The innovation matchmaker

Northwestern offers crucial support to Kellogg entrepreneurs seeking to commercialize products

By Daniel P. Smith

8/19/2011 - In innovation as much as love, a little matchmaking never hurts.
Enter the Northwestern University Innovation and New Ventures Office — otherwise known as INVO.

When Kellogg grads Jediah White ’05, Lisa Earnhardt ’96 and their colleagues at Nerites inked a $20 million deal in January 2011 to sell the company’s adhesive-based biomaterial developments to Kensey Nash, INVO earned a hearty assist.

“There are a lot of innovative ideas in the world, but INVO helped us put ours in a competitive context,” White said.

When Kellogg alum Andrew Cittadine ’98 teamed with biomedical engineering professor Vadim Backman to move Backman’s optical imaging technology to market, INVO played a vital role.

Cittadine, the American BioOptics CEO, turned to INVO to help the upstart company solidify its IP positioning and navigate regulatory strategy. In December 2010, American BioOptics secured a multi-million-dollar sale of various assets to a global medical device company.

“INVO wasn’t just a bit player, but actively involved in making the deal happen,” Cittadine said.

While innovation has long been a part of the Northwestern landscape — the university scored $550 million in research expenditures in 2010 alone — the INVO office has become the university’s official vehicle to help faculty and students launch their creations into the marketplace.

The innovative drive from science, engineering and medicine, and the entrepreneurial assistance of Kellogg students, alums and faculty, is key to the quest to maximize each innovation’s commercial potential.

Founded in March 2010, INVO pursues commercially viable research throughout the university and provides the resources to compel success. Today, the INVO office delivers the partnerships, support, guidance and regulatory know-how to help university-bred innovations move into the world.

“Whether it’s licensing an innovation directly to an existing company or building a startup, our purpose is to help innovations move into the market,” INVO executive director Alicia Loffler said.

Finding a commercial path — well, that’s where Kellogg enters the game.

Kellogg’s Larry and Carol Levy Institute for Entrepreneurial Practice holds the Commercialization Laboratory course under the direction of Professor William Sutter. Kellogg students enrolled in the class help university-aligned innovations develop comprehensive and strategic business plans that foster growth and attract start-up financing.

In addition, more than 30 Kellogg students performed market analysis on a range of biomedical technologies during the 2010-2011 academic year as a part of the Innovation to Commercialization Consulting Group (I2C) led by Marta Melar-New ’11. Students researched the marketplace viability of various therapeutic, diagnostic and medical devices and recommended an effective commercialization path.

INVO’s ability to assemble mixed talent across disciplines and help traverse the often-tricky world of product development not only heightens Northwestern’s entrepreneurial standing, but also helps bring innovation to market.

“At the end of the day,” Loffler said, “people want to see their discoveries being realized. That’s where INVO lends a hand.”