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DRI launches Applied Innovation Center to aid businesses

John Seelmeyer
jseelmeyer@nnbw.biz

Researchers at Desert Research Institute are internationally renowned for their scientific studies of environments from Antarctica to Death Valley.

Now, leaders of DRI increasingly realize that the skills of those researchers — the ability to ask the right questions, the wisdom to draw solid insights from reams of data — also will have a role to play in the economic-development climate of northern Nevada.

The centerpiece of those economic-development efforts is a newly created Applied Innovation Center for Advanced Analytics that was launched this year through $3 million in funds provided by the Nevada Knowledge Fund. That’s a $10 million fund created by Legislature in 2011 to spur research, innovation and commercialization efforts at the system of higher education — including DRI.

Within a few weeks of opening their doors, staff members at the Applied Innovation Center were talking with more than a half dozen organizations that want to tap into DRI’s expertise.

“We’re bolting on the wings as we’re rolling down the runway,” says Kimothy Smith, its newly hired senior director.

The general areas targeted by Smith and Brian Spicher, the center’s business development lead, include:

Decision analysis supported by “big data.”

Enhanced data visualization.

Cyber-physical monitoring systems.

Surveillance and assessment of global disease risks.

“The Applied Innovation Center will be ‘Innovation on Demand’ for Nevada,” says Smith.

But like any startup, the new Applied Innovation Center is feeling its way forward and keeping itself open to opportunities that may present themselves, says Smith.

Business customers for the center’s services, he says, range from newly created technology companies to existing industries in the region to companies in other parts of the world that want to launch operations in Nevada.

“We’re looking at our skill set as a tool kit,” Smith says.

Speicher says part of the work of the Applied Innovation Center’s staff is helping DRI researchers identify the opportunities to commercialize their work and learn the culture of their new private-sector partners.

“We have to be able to think and move at the speed of business,” Speicher says.

And nothing will be important to that work, Smith says, that a couple of early successes to demonstrate the possibilities of collaboration between business people and DRI researchers.

Some of the companies with which the Applied Innovation Center contracts may establish offices and research facilities across the street from DRI’s campus on the hillside on the north edge of the Truckee Meadows.

The 328-acre Dandini Research Park, overseen by a nonprofit created by the Nevada System of Higher Education, has developed a master plan for business development that ranges from offices to light manufacturing.

The research park property essentially surrounds the campuses of DRI and the Dandini Campus of Truckee Meadows Community College. Its development has been stalled since the onset of the recession in 2008.

The leadership of the Applied Innovation Center brings a combination of private-sector and public-sector background to the new organization.

Smith, who most recently worked as a professor of microbiology and epidemiology at the University of Nevada, Reno, School of Health Sciences, has also worked as senior advisor for international biodefense for the Department of Homeland Security. In the private sector, he has been chief technology officer for private held Microfluidic Systems.

Speicher was part of the founding management teams of Krele Pharmaceuticals Inc. and TONIX Pharmaceuticals and was director of clinical research and business development for Vela Pharmaceuticals.


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