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Q&A: Nancy Bridgman talks about the NET Incubator's role in the Dayton region

Nancy Bridgman, Executive Director at NET Incubator. Photos | Ben French
Nancy Bridgman, Executive Director at NET Incubator. Photos | Ben French

Could you tell us how the incubator got started and when?

It started in 2001, originally as collaboration between Battelle Memorial Institute, the Environmental Protection Agency and Central State University. Because Central State has an international water resource management team, and Ph.D.s in environmental and water hydrology and a lot of expertise there, they had a vision for developing a commercialization, research and incubation program really targeted in environmental and alternative energy.

How many companies do you have in the incubator and how many have graduated over the years?

We have five in the actual location and we're working with two virtually. I think we have about seven successful graduates since 2001. We're fairly small compared to TechColumbus and some others. But, we're reinvigorating. We're hoping to take it and grow it.

What makes your incubator different from some of the others around the state?

What helps our commercialization program and our students is that because we have grants with the Air Force Research Laboratory, the Department of Development -- we even work with Ohio Department of Natural Resources -- that allows us to not only focus on the actual area, but to increase internships and alternative ways to find funding for research that can turn into commercialized innovation.

How about your environmental focus?

Originally, when we started, that's the only focus we had. Now, we've expanded, because as a director I was asked to be part of the Dayton Development Coalition Entrepreneurial Signature Program (an Ohio Third Frontier program). So, I sit with a lot of organizations like IDCAST, and Emtec -- as well as other incubators -- and we help with startup funding all the companies in the region. So, we do now accept technology companies in four focus areas: alternative energy and environmental, sensor applications, advanced materials and general information technology companies. Our goal is to mentor them, help them get startup funding and to accelerate their commercialization process so we can get them to create jobs. Our real goal is quantifiable economic impact for our region.

What have been some of your successes?

We started out with just offices and labs at Central State, and we outgrew that, so we are now in the Nextedge Applied Research Park. Pallas Systems has testing equipment for the defense industry here, and they've done very well in finding funding and created nine full-time system engineers already, so they're growing really fast, and then Zia Systems is also here in the Nextedge Park. We were named a Center of Excellence in Emerging Technologies by the State of Ohio this year. We're hoping with that designation and Third Frontier funding we can increase our activities, especially in alternative energy and environmental. We already have a biomass company, we have a turbine company -- and we just submitted a grant to the Department of Energy for $200,000 on behalf of one of our tenants (Dayton Hydroelectric), which has a patent for a hydrokinetic turbine that three utility companies in Ohio have approached us about. Everybody's looking for alternative energy for their portfolios in the next three years.

What kind of services do you provide?

We have six different workshops to help startups with the management, the early stage management that would help them develop not only a business plan but presentations for funding, which might include venture capital. We help them with grants, we also help them with the Entrepreneurial Signature Third Frontier funding, so we really try to do an assessment of all our companies and mentor them, and if we don't have the expertise we network with others. We also offer office space, which includes everything -- wireless and all the business services. And also, because we're affiliated with Central State, we provide access to labs and student interns. So, we're doing a lot of partnerships, and we (Central State) did just sign a master research agreement with Procter & Gamble, and they're interested not only in looking at Central State's principal investigators, but they're also interested in some of our startups that work in areas they're looking for -- they call them transformative platform technologies. And we're hopefully going to get some of our startups involved in one or two of those platforms.

What exciting things are on the drawing board?

One of the most exciting things was spending the day last week at Innovation Day at Procter & Gamble. I'm also excited that Central State is involved with the AFRLm and there are really exciting things in going on in sensor research, and because Zia's in the sensor business, we're really focused on increasing research challenge grants in that area.

What makes Central State a good partner for the incubator?

You have the science department, the manufacturing engineering, the business and industry and the international resource departments, and all are led by just amazing experts in environmental and hydrology and sensors. And Central State professors really understand how to nurture and focus on students and really help them find very technical internships in the areas they are majoring in. They even have an engineering manufacturing council with people from Wright-Patt and corporations all over the state of Ohio coming in to oversee what students are doing, so I think they have a real understanding that students sometimes need a focus and help outside the university and try to bring in partners to show students or help students, mentor students while they're in school.

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