30 Jul Fab Lab brings MIT tech transfer ideas to Wisconsin businesses
Appleton, Wis. – Fabrication Laboratories, or Fab Labs, are an exercise in global technology sharing spun out of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and a Wisconsin technical college is putting an entrepreneurial spin on them.
It’s that entrepreneurial piece that has MIT’s Sherry Lassiter visiting Fox Valley Technical College to learn more about the “Take it to Market” business model of FVTC’s Fab Lab, and to get ideas for expanding other Fab Labs, now used in educational settings, to accommodate inventors that want to commercialize their ideas.
In northeastern Wisconsin, dozens of inventors are using the lab and taking advantage of the mentoring services of a team of engineers with the hope of translating their ideas into business. The FVTC facility is the first of 30 global Fab Labs to have a special focus on entrepreneurs and developing businesses, and MIT has taken notice.
Fab Labs, a program of the MIT Center for Bits and Atoms, are predicated on the idea that ordinary people can apply industrial-grade fabrication and electronics tools and stimulate innovation with virtual reality, simulation, modeling and rapid prototyping. In Appleton, Lassiter plans to explore the possibilities of Fab Lab business development.
“I’m out here to see their model and to see if we can understand ways that this might propagate throughout the rest of the [Fab Lab] network,” said Lassiter, program manager of the Center for Bits and Atoms.
There are several business drivers for the FVTC Fab Lab, including the desire to help more of the intellectual property developed in the state stay here. To augment the lab for entrepreneurs, the FVTC Venture Center has created different packages of business services.
Amy Pietsch, director of the venture center, has visions of a Fab Lab at every technical college in Wisconsin. FVTC already has established a Midwest Fab Lab Network with the Ohio-based Lorraine County Community College and Century College in Minnesota, and has partnered with the University of Wisconsin-Stout, a polytechnic university with research projects in nanotechnology and genomics. FVTC’s strongest relationship is with a Fab Lab in Norway, whose director and staff visited Appleton last August.
Existing businesses also rely on the lab. Motion Products in Neenah, for example, restores rare European sports cars and is using the lab as its R&D facility.
“I think we’re discovering that the Fab Lab is just a powerful, integrating mechanism,” said Jim Janisse, director of the lab. “We now have relationships with Fab Labs around the world, and we’re already seeing exchanges of products and ideas.”
While its focus is on affordable, early-stage prototyping, Pietsch said the FVTC lab is not competing with businesses that offer prototyping services to established companies. In addition to taking inventors through the new product development process, Pietsch hopes the lab will drive “not just incremental innovation, but radical innovation.”
Lassiter believes access to Fab Labs, which she called a means to create and innovate, is going to change the way people think about business and intellectual property. The idea behind Fab Labs, she noted, is to democratize intellectual property.
“I think Fox Valley and MIT are sitting on threshold of a new era,” she said, “and I think it’s going to very exciting.”