HATTIESBURG — There’s many a slip between a brilliant idea and launching a company to market a product or service that results from that idea.
In Mississippi state education and political leaders strongly support bridging the gap between academic research and the marketplace by linking universities researchers to economic development.
And now Ivory Tower researchers at the University of Southern Mississippi will have a business development coach at their side. Dr. Ken Malone, who received a Ph.D. in polymer science at USM and has spent 10 years working for private business, has come on staff in the new position as director of USM business venture development. Malone will seek to bridge “the historical divide between academia and the business community.”
Malone has a goal of helping launch 20 small technology business startups in the Pine Belt area in the next five years. He will be working in partnership with USM’s Department of Economic Development, which is a part of the College of International and Continuing Education.
Malone said he will utilize an infrastructure already in place to help professors across all academic disciplines turn their intellectual properties into dollars for themselves and the university.
“I think the critical element is developing new small businesses from the technology at the university,” Malone said. “Clearly the university’s technology is something that can lead to dozens of small technology-driven businesses. My job differs from efforts in the past in that there was never anyone with a commercial development background to help the professors and staff persons from the idea stage into the final product state. That’s really why I am here.”
Prior to taking the business venture development job at USM, Malone was employed as director of planning for the additives division of the $70-billion Paris-based Atofina Chemicals Inc., in Philadelphia, Pa.
There are a variety of substantial challenges between a researcher discovering a new product or process, and getting it to market.
“Often researchers don’t think about how to meet specific customer needs,” Malone said. “They have a great new development, but they haven’t thought about how this new scientific discovery translates into meeting a specific customer need. The first step is to undertake the basic market research that translates the new science into meeting the needs of potential customers.”
The next step is identifying how to bring the product to market. Assuming this is a tangible product, you have to make plans for manufacturing. Manufacturing involves a variety of health, safety, labor and environmental considerations. And then you have to find financing.
Dr. Angie Dvorak, USM’s vice president for research and economic development, said a private contribution to the USM Research Foundation paved the way for the hiring of Malone.
“His experience in science and technology-based business development is vitally important in furthering Southern Miss as an innovation university, successfully moving basic research through the technology cycles and into the marketplace,” Dvorak said. “Ken has had global experience and brings world-class opportunities to our university. Ken has a very unique set of skills in the fact he is a Ph.D. polymer scientist, and has worked with a top-five chemical company. His job was to identify and research areas for patented technologies that were viable to take to the marketplace.
Gray Swoope, president of the Area Development Partnership (ADP), said adding Malone to the staff dovetails with what ADP is trying to do in regards to economic development.
“It is another asset,” Swoope said. “We are all partners in this together.
Contact MBJ contributing writer Becky Gillette at firstname.lastname@example.org</a.