How businesses can benefit from WKU’s research centers

Whether the enterprise is a small startup in Bowling Green, Kentucky, a regional university, or a national company with a large constituency, the research centers of Western Kentucky University offer practical tools and resources that serve businesses across the board.

Currently, the Western Kentucky University Research Foundation is showcasing 12 WKU research and service centers. In an effort to better understand how businesses can benefit, we interviewed three of those research centers to discover the strides they are taking toward influencing the local business community and beyond.

Thermal Analysis Lab

The Thermal Analysis Lab provides access to advanced scientific instrumentation for the measurement of the thermal properties of materials.

Under the management of research associate Dr. Houyin Zhao, the lab supports the educational, research and public service missions of WKU by providing thermal analysis data needed by faculty and students.

Additionally, the lab has assisted local, regional and national companies that have requested help to solve problems.

“For local companies, they first contact us to discuss their problem,” Zhao said. “Occasionally, they want to perform the tests themselves. If that is the case, they will be trained first and then proceed with the tests.”

Zhao said that many regional and national companies have initiated contact after discovering the Thermal Analysis Lab through the WKU website.

“Once we discuss their issues and see if we can solve them, then the next steps involve them sending us samples,” Zhao said. “Ultimately, what we do is solve their issues by using our instrumentation.”

Companies also learn about the Thermal Analysis Lab through its publications or at national events such as the North American Thermal Analysis Society Conference. In some cases, local companies have established contracts with the lab.

Small Business Accelerator

Staff at the Small Business Accelerator understand that the first three to five years are critically important to the success of any small business. For this reason, they offer access to a collaborative environment in which knowledge-based businesses can launch and grow.

“Our clients can establish strong relationships with individuals from companies at various stages of growth in the accelerator as well as with our professional staff,” said Emilee Buttrum, assistant director of the Center for Research and Development. “These clients have access to shared resources and expertise including but not limited to business development consulting; IT support and infrastructure; training and professional development opportunities; professional mentors and networking; access to rapid prototyping; and connections to various funding options.”

According to Buttrum, most entrepreneurs discover the Small Business Accelerator by word of mouth.

“Upon connecting with our team, prospective clients will have the opportunity to meet one-on-one with a business development consultant to discuss the individual’s innovative product or service,” Buttrum said. “Our job is not to say, ‘good idea’ or ‘bad idea.’ Instead, we work with the client to establish goals, identify resource requirements and establish a plan to help turn their idea into a business [that becomes] financially viable.”

The Small Business Accelerator offers an abundance of resources. These include:

• Mentor Network — connecting clients with experienced individuals who can provide guidance for early-stage and startup businesses;

• Focus on Innovation — serving clients of the accelerator and Kentucky Innovation Network as a platform for traditional focus groups or small group discussions between clients and members of their target market;

• Small Business Dialogue Program — offering monthly workshops in education and professional development in order to equip clients to address needs for marketing, web development, accounting, intellectual property, finances, sales and more.

Advanced Materials Institute

The Advanced Materials Institute serves companies in a variety of ways , from testing products as part of the quality control process to determining the composition of waste materials in order to implement proper disposal methods.

Pauline Norris, laboratory manager, offered specific examples of the institute’s work:

• Company A needs to determine the quantity of hazardous material on a product component. The AMI analyzes samples and the supplier takes steps to remediate the problem.

• Company B submits steel samples for composition analysis to determine the grade of the material.

• Company C submits samples of an unknown residue found in a wash liquid to discover its identity.

“The place where our lab really shines is to help customers that want something out of the ordinary,” Norris said. “For example, if you call up most analytical labs and say you have samples for EPA Method 525.2, they probably routinely run that method and can give you a price and you are done. However, if you have an unknown material and don’t know what testing you need, they can’t help you. But we can. We can use our diverse set of instrumentation to do extra research that goes above routine analysis.”

To find out how your business can get involved with these or other WKU research centers, visit the research center showcase at wkurf.org and use the contact form.

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