Ohio’s 2004 performance in Small Times’ rankings: diversity, practicality pay off

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Jan. 19, 2005 — Each year, Small Times ranks the U.S. states for their research, development and commercialization proficiency in the areas of nanotechnology, MEMS and microsystems. Last year, Ohio ranked tenth. Its 2004 report card follows. Look to Small Times’ upcoming March issue for this year’s state-by-state rankings.

Mar. 2004 — No single entity deserves credit for Ohio’s ascension to the top 10 this year. Instead, the state’s ability to rally its diverse applied research efforts helped it elbow out about a half dozen states that were flirting with the cut. Ohio’s strong showing in the industry and innovation categories suggests it could become a commercial force in the future.

“You have this phenomenal mix,” said Donna Fossum, senior social scientist with the RAND Corp. Fossum analyzes federal funding trends for the non-profit research corporation. “There are two major federal government agencies and an amazing university system.”

The NASA Glenn Research Center in Cleveland is investigating microsystems, nanomaterials and nanotube-based energy concepts for space applications. The Air Force Research Laboratory at the Wright- Patterson base in Dayton explores nanotechnology’s potential, particularly in materials, to improve its military might. Ohio gets another boost through the Cleveland Clinic, which has bioMEMS and nanotechnology programs on its campus.

Wright-Patterson collaborates with the neighboring University of Dayton Research Institute (UDRI) on projects that have a problem-solving bent. For instance, the lab’s materials and manufacturing branch and UDRI joined forces to design a lubricant coating for MEMS. Under a different Air Force contract, UDRI developed a durable nanofiber composite that is being commercialized by the Ohio-based startup, NanoSperse LLC. NanoSperse was founded in 2003.

To the north, Glennan Microsystems Inc. looks for business opportunities that build off the research strengths at NASA Glenn and Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland. The region specializes in microsystems that function in harsh environments such as the automotive engine sensors made by Glennan spinout FLX Micro of Solon.

Such application-driven partnerships helped Ohio crack into two key categories in the rankings, innovation and industry, where it claimed the seventh and eighth berth, respectively.

It scored a respectable 14th in the research category as well, thanks to bioengineering and micro-device work at Ohio State University in Columbus and a nanomaterials thrust at the University of Cincinnati.

The federal agencies and clinic are bolstering a growing business community, but whether the state can provide adequate incentives to sustain them remains to be seen. Under its Third Frontier project, the state awarded $18 million in 2003 to a fuel cell initiative based at Case Western.

The university has an expertise in miniaturized fuel cell components. The state selected the UDRI-NanoSperse nanocomposite effort for additional support.

But taxpayers also narrowly defeated an amendment in November that would have allowed Third Frontier to invest in future startups.

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