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Center for Engineering Innovation turns ideas into products

SALT LAKE CITY — A new center is helping companies turn their ideas into products by providing pay-as-you-go engineering services.

The Center for Engineering Innovation opened at the Utah Science Technology and Research innovation center on the University of Utah campus this summer.

A public kickoff event Thursday provided an opportunity for outside industry members to learn how the center facilitates the transformation of inventions into devices ready for production.

“We’re filling in the gap between the basic science and engineering innovation that happens in a university and the product development and commercialization that happens in companies,” said Florian Solzbacher, director of the Center for Engineering Innovation and a professor at the U.

The center, which has been running since July 1, provides services to help innovators turn their ideas into commercial products.

“What’s exciting about this is the opportunity for companies to come in … who may have a really interesting idea that they want to be able to develop a prototype for,” said James Thompson, associate director of the Technology Commercialization Office at the U. “They want to be able to build something, build a product, but they just don’t know how. They’re not the engineers.”

The staff at the Center for Engineering Innovation, however, are engineers. They work with university faculty to facilitate the process of translating ideas into product.

The center provides prototyping to make ideas production-ready, and will help find funding and cowrite proposals. Solzbacher described it as a machine shop that comes with a machinist.

“We believe that we can help to mature and de-risk technologies by having the capabilities that will be available through CEI,” Solzbacher said. “This will strengthen start-ups. It will help more of them to become effective and to grow into very large companies.”

The center is a resource that companies, particularly start-ups, can tap into, whether they are interested in work-for-hire applied engineering services or using the center’s manufacturing technologies accessible through the nanofabrication laboratory.

“I’m a business guy from outside looking to find a partnership, to find engineers I can work with,” said Bryce Hansen at the event. “I’m actually just here today to find out what it is and build relationships. I’m looking to be a part of a technology team with smart engineers because I’m just the business side of an early-stage company.”

Hansen was one of about 50 people in attendance for the presentations about the Center for Engineering Innovation, which is already working on projects including micro- and nanofabrication, packaging technology and neural interface technology. Attendees also had the chance to interact with the center’s staff to discuss ideas.

About 10 senior staff work at the center, along with three university students who help with projects for industries like process control, vacuum technologies and biomedical devices.

“The Center for Engineering Innovation is going to contribute in maintaining and deepening our campus culture of innovation,” said Rich Brown, dean of the College of Engineering. “We have a reputation here at the University of Utah of knowing how to take research results and commercialize them.”

Solzbacher is supposed to be on sabbatical but was excited to be able to start the program, which already has repeat customers.

“There’s so much unmet need here in this state and in the community for these capabilities that I’m quite confident that we can grow this into a major leg for the university to stand on over the coming years,” Solzbacher said.