Bruce Applegate, an associate professor of food science at Purdue University, thought there must be a safer, cheaper way to detect the food-borne pathogen.
"You have to be able to grow them in the host strain," he said of viruses called bacteriophages that are used to detect the pathogen. "Do you really want to be growing 500 liters of E. coli?"
Instead, Applegate developed a process that allows researchers to use different, less volatile strains of E. coli. His method also turns the pathogen cells red, making them easier to find, and it also keeps them alive, allowing investigators to identify them during a food recall.
"We've really gotten around it," Applegate said of the problem. He's using that research from Purdue to co-found a company, West Lafayette-based Intelliphage, which he hopes to move into Purdue Research Park.
In the university's fiscal year 2007 -- which ran from July 1, 2007, to June 30, 2008 -- 10 companies, including Intelliphage, were formed based on technology developed at Purdue. In the previous fiscal year, 15 startups were launched.
Since 2002, 56 companies have been formed at Purdue Research Park, creating 447 jobs with average pay of $58,000, according to figures from research park officials. Purdue has a long history of encouraging its faculty to move from the laboratory to the boardroom, but it is being challenged in-state by Indiana University and Anderson University.
Joseph Hornett, senior vice president of the Purdue Research Foundation, said Purdue -- which applies for about 250 patents a year and is granted about three dozen annually -- stresses entrepreneurship to its faculty. "This is just becoming part of the Purdue culture," he said.
In 2006, Purdue applied for 241 patents and was issued 32. By comparison, IU sought 41 patents and received nine.
Hornett's counterpart at IU, Tony Armstrong, president and chief executive of the IU Research and Technology Corp., said his incubator usually sees two or three companies launched each year. But he said IU is trying to help more professors launch startups, or form partnerships, based on their discoveries.
Right now there are 25 companies, ranging from two employees to "more than 20," Armstrong said, at IU's Emerging Technologies Center, the incubator in Downtown Indianapolis where about 150 workers are employed. On Aug. 6. Armstrong was appointed head of the RTC, which oversees the incubator.
"Certainly our goal is to increase our activity in startups and licensing and technology," Armstrong said about IU's efforts. "We've probably been a little slow, a little behind the numbers that they (Purdue) put up. But we've been working on that."
Another school working to encourage economic development is Anderson University. Chuck Staley, president and chief executive of the school's Flagship Enterprise Center, said that in five years the school's tech park has landed 54 companies employing more than 600 people.
The private school partnered with the city of Anderson to create a campus of buildings to house startups and established companies to work with students, he said.
"We lost 27,000 well-paying jobs," Staley said, referring to auto-industry layoffs. "We came to the conclusion it was pure folly to think we could exist and direct our mission in a community that was on economic life support. Not many private institutions are actually engaged in that direct of a way."
While Purdue consistently leads its rivals like IU in terms of patent applications filed and issued or companies formed, Hornett lauded the new presidents at Purdue and IU -- France Co´rdova and Michael McRobbie, respectively -- and their focus on technology transfer. That includes a new research alliance aimed at seeking $35 million in annual funding from the General Assembly in each of the next two years to boost the life-sciences industry.
"It's kind of a fortuitous time in Indiana," Hornett said. "There's a new understanding that working together is much better than working at each other."
At IU, McRobbie has created an office of engagement to ramp up commercialization of its research and technology. Armstrong said the school also will break ground "later this year" on a 40,000-square-foot incubator in Bloomington of which more than half will be devoted to "wet lab" space. And the school hopes to raise $5 million for a seed fund for new companies.
One of the new companies at IU is Rimedion, which was founded in July and developed from work performed at the School of Medicine.
CEO Butch Mercer, who co-founded the company with Ken Cornetta, a professor of medical and molecular genetics, said it produces materials for clinical trials, does certification testing and works on orphan drug development to treat immunodeficiency diseases and certain cancers. Mercer hopes to move Rimedion into the ETC this fall.
"IU and the IU ETC have a commitment to Indiana economic development and I believe this is one," Mercer said. "This is not an area IU is very experienced in. (But) what I find is a very serious engagement on their part to get it done."
—Chuck Bowen is a correspondent for the Indy Star in Indianapolis, Ind. Story republished with permission.
Anderson University is a private Christian university of 2,700 undergraduate and graduate students in central Indiana. Anderson continues to be recognized as a top Christian college: in 2008, U.S. News and World Report ranked Anderson University among the best colleges and universities in the Midwest for the fourth consecutive year. Established in 1917 by the Church of God, Anderson University offers more than 65 undergraduate majors and graduate programs in business, education, music, nursing and theology.