HAMMOND — Purdue University Northwest is hoping to give a boost to Northwest Indiana entrepreneurs starting this fall with some help from the U.S. Economic Development Administration.

PNW’s program – “Concept to Commercialization 2020” (C2C-2020) – was one of only 44 nationwide, and the only one from Indiana, to win $386,000 in funding from the Regional Innovation Strategies Program’s FY19 i6 Challenge.

The i6 Challenge is a national initiative designed to support creation of centers for innovation and entrepreneurship that increase the rate at which innovations, ideas, intellectual property and research are translated into products, services, viable companies and jobs, according to PNW interim vice chancellor for academic affairs and provost Niaz Latif.

Latif, who also serves as executive director of PNW’s Commercialization and Manufacturing Excellence Center, said the program is a catalyst for bringing an “innovation economy” to the region.

“Our goal is to foster advanced manufacturing related to entrepreneurship and workforce development,” he said. “The ambitious participants we intend to serve in this program will not only have access to state-of-the-art equipment in CMEC, but will also tap into Purdue Northwest’s vast resources of intellectual capital, leadership assets and community partnerships.”

CMEC, within the College of Technology, will house the C2C-2020 program. Mont Handley, entrepreneur in residence and associate director for CMEC, co-wrote the proposal with professor and interim College of Technology dean Mohammad Zahraee; and Deborah Blades, director of industrial relations and experiential learning.

Handley said the 18,000-square-foot CMEC facility in Hammond already provides the equipment and machinery for prototype development and testing, proof of concept manufacturing and space for specialized workforce training and workshops.

“What makes this program truly transformational for entrepreneurs, though, will be the connections with PNW’s expert faculty, as well as local and state workforce agencies and economic development groups," Handley said. "All will be working together to put participants on a path from concept to prototype to sustainable business."

The program intends to serve hundreds of participants in the first two years from across La Porte, Porter, Lake, Newton, Jasper, Pulaski and Starke counties.

Participants will learn start-up strategies, essentials of small business management, intellectual property and leadership, Handley said. "Purdue Northwest hopes this unique format will spur economic development in the Region to close current gaps."

Between 2001 and 2013, data from the Purdue University Center for Regional Development showed that counties in Northwest Indiana were issued patents at a rate of 1.6 per 10,000 jobs, while the remaining Indiana counties garnered 4 patents per 10,000 jobs.

Additionally, despite having educational resources to serve local entrepreneurs and small businesses with technical assistance and research, 2014 was the last time a Small Business Innovation Research grant was awarded in the region.

“There are tremendous opportunities in Northwest Indiana for a venture of this scale,” Handley said. “Purdue Northwest is well positioned to be the engine that drives this transformation.

"It has the real potential to spark new economic investment and produce tangible outcomes in workforce growth both direct, from businesses spun out of the program, and indirect, through businesses needed as a result of these successes.”

In announcing the i6 Challenge winners, U.S. Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross said projects like PNW’s C2C-2020 will spark innovation across the country.

“Innovation and entrepreneurship are an indispensable part of the American economic success story,” Ross said.

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