The Austen BioInnovation Institute in Akron hardly mirrors what its founders envisioned six years ago. Two partners have departed. The reality of local collaboration hasn’t matched the talk. Funding has not arrived as promised, especially from the state. Yet somewhat like a startup, the organization, led by the energetic and accomplished Frank Douglas, has recast its mission, still offering the city and surroundings something they readily can use.
The institute will shed elements to focus on expanding its product innovation and commercialization departments. That carries the potential for complementing the economic strategy of the city, looking to develop a strong presence in biomaterials, drawing more on the strengths of local industries, plus research at the University of Akron and Kent State University.
This is the concept that attracted an additional investment of $4 million from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation last week (plus $1 million from the state). The foundation long has seen the potential for attracting talent and spurring innovation. It rightly is encouraged by the institute’s recent efforts to attract new partners, including the firm of Nottingham-Spark.
Not that the task will be easy. The plan calls for the institute to see its revenues exceed its expenses in two years, driven by the much-praised prototypes and services it offers clients. It still has the crucial backing of Akron Children’s Hospital and Summa Health System. What it cannot afford is another chapter of insufficient collaboration. Akron wants, and needs, a cluster around biomaterials. The Austen BioInnovation Institute can be a catalyst in getting there.