A New Alliance
A young North American organization aims to bridge industry, academia, and government to advance photonics commercialization.
01 April 2006
Erin M. Schadt
A group of organizations, companies, and academia in southeast Canada and northeast United States have banded together to form the International Photonics Commercialization Alliance or IPCA.
The mission of the alliance is to tackle three primary challenges: connecting existing resources, helping others to connect to these resources, and identifying and addressing resource needs that don't yet exist.
"We want to act as a hub between businesses, regional photonic clusters, and technology commercialization centers, internationally, with the mandate of facilitating the commercialization of photonic-enabled ideas," explains David R. Smith, CEO of Infotonics Technology Center (New York, NY), a founding member of the IPCA.
Mind the Gap
The alliance was formed after regional commercialization centers -- the National Research Council Canada, the Photonics Center at Boston University, and Infotonics -- were more frequently referring requests and inquires among each other.
"What we saw was a need to try to connect these bodies together so that we could share each other's resources," says Clifford Robinson, assistant director of the Photonics Center. He points to the fact that there are ample resources available to those interested in commercialization, but it's the connections that are the trick. "There are small startup companies all over the globe. These resources exist, but how do you find them? How do you connect them?"
The IPCA currently addresses these questions in two ways. One is in person, at round-table discussions connected to established conferences. For example, the IPCA hosted its first round-table discussion at the Photonics Center prior to Boston University's Future of Light symposium last November. Attendees from Canada and the United States discussed the new organization and commercialization needs for the next generation of photonic devices.
The other way the IPCA connects the resource dots is through a virtual community utilizing a dynamic database and search engine that allows information from websites, documents, files, and folders to all be linked to a specific point of contact.
"The emphasis is to identify the gaps and build an infrastructure that provides the support to identify or develop suppliers needed for success," says Smith. "Many of the gaps can be served by existing resources often scattered across the globe."
Smith says these two networking methods are vital tools to building and strengthening that infrastructure.
One of the key connections the IPCA could strengthen, according to Smith, is between industry and academia.
"Academia is a great place where next-generation ideas and concepts are generated, but their main focus is frequently on research and education, not the commercializing the concept," he says. "Industry can take the concepts, leverage the resident expertise in academia, and drive innovation into the market to provide solutions to today's problems. There is a natural fit between the two."
Research networks that already facilitate this academia-industry nexus can utilize the IPCA in the same way to assist in the jump from research to market. One such organization is already reaping the benefits. Robert Corriveau, president of the Canadian Institute for Photonics Innovation (CIPI), says, "Specifically for CIPI, [the IPCA] is a forum which allows efficient networking with research organizations of the U.S. So far, thediscussions with the Photonics Center, Infotonics, and PIANY [Photonics Industry Association of New York] have been very informative on who are our best contacts in the U.S. northeast region."
Corriveau says the network the ICPA supports is an excellent complement to local photonics clusters and organizations. "Furthermore," he says, "it provides visibility and information sharing between the various participants in addition to providing information on the photonic activities in the participating regions."
Though the alliance is still very young, it has already facilitated good discussion and networking. "My hope is that the IPCA will be a service to the photonics community," says Robinson. "Our industry needed something like this, as a way of connecting people together as a forum for exchange."
To learn more about the IPCA, visit the alliance's website at www.ipcalliance.com.
All Together Now
The IPCA is always accepting new members, and for a limited time, they're taking members for free. "We want to encourage participation and grow membership during this introductory phase," says David R. Smith, CEO of Infotonics Technology Center, founding member of the IPCA. "We want to ensure that we are getting good representation from different areas."
If you are interested in learning more about the IPCA, visit their website at www.ipcalliance.com. The site includes access to their newsletter and a list of upcoming events, among other features.
Erin M. Schadt, SPIE Professional Managing Editor