A new agreement between Argonne and mHUB will provide entrepreneurs access to tools and resources to bring technology to market.
A powerful new partnership will boost the Chicago-area innovation ecosystem while providing a new model for manufacturing for high-tech start-ups.
The U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) Argonne National Laboratory has signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with mHUB, a Chicago-based innovation center dedicated to physical product development and manufacturing.
The MOU will provide scientists at Argonne, including the entrepreneurs in Argonne's Chain Reaction Innovations (CRI) program, access to mHUB's expertise and resources in manufacturing and business modeling. "This is really a joint approach, where Argonne is the high-tech expert in the innovation ecosystem while mHUB is the expert in prototyping and business development," said John Carlisle, director of CRI.
"It's really a three-pronged approach where each component -- technical expertise, business expertise and manufacturing expertise -- works in tandem." -- John Carlisle, director of Chain Reaction Innovations.
"We're excited to formalize a partnership with the CRI program at Argonne and add to the growing number of energy tech-related companies in our community," said mHUB CEO and co-founder, Haven Allen. "The CRI companies have great potential, and our resources and connections to industry will help accelerate their paths to commercialization."
While CRI's goal is to provide technical mentorship to start-ups, advancing a product to the point of commercialization takes more than just scientific know-how.
"The partnership with mHUB we've developed over the past year or so involves manufacturing mentorship," said Adria Wilson, CRI's Entrepreneurial Program Lead. "Sometimes the real challenge a company faces is not so much in developing a technology that's viable but rather in developing a business model for how to make it at scale."
Making products at scale could mean making thousands or tens of thousands of a particular product, but it could also sometimes mean making highly customized, one-of-a-kind devices designed to serve a specific need, Wilson explained.
"Right now we can think about technical innovations in a different way than we could do before, using business models that weren't previously viable," she said. "Innovations in manufacturing technology have opened up new windows of possibility, reduced time to market and made customization much more cost effective."
From CRI's perspective, working with mHUB gets innovators closer to the goal of having what Wilson called a "holistic understanding" of what a company needs to drive their product closer to marketability. Argonne hopes that scientists at the laboratory, including the CRI innovators, will utilize the relationship to take courses at mHUB or attend mHUB events designed to tap into a more robust entrepreneurial community.
"In addition to the technical expertise Argonne provides, there's a whole additional kind of business and manufacturing acumen that entrepreneurs need to succeed," Carlisle said. "It's really a three-pronged approach where each component -- technical expertise, business expertise and manufacturing expertise -- works in tandem."
The partnerships that mHUB maintains with other companies and organizations throughout Chicago and the Midwest also help introduce Argonne scientists and CRI innovators to a broader network of industrial partners. "The working relationship is not just about Argonne and the innovators going to mHUB to do things, but it's about developing joint programming so that other companies who work with mHUB but aren't associated with Argonne can benefit from what the world-class laboratory brings to the table," Carlisle said.
Since it opened last year, mHUB has successfully built relationships with a wide variety of different companies. The facility currently has over 1,000 users, and in 2017 mHUB housed more than 800 people from nearly 200 companies.
Through the MOU, Argonne and mHUB will work together to support and nurture manufacturing-intensive energy-related projects and start-ups, helping technologies that fit certain criteria move from inception closer to the market.
CRI is funded by DOE's Advanced Manufacturing Office as part of the Lab-Embedded Entrepreneurship Programs (LEEP) from the U.S. Department of Energy's Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE). EERE created the Lab-Embedded Entrepreneurship Programs to provide an institutional home for innovative postdoctoral researchers to build their research into products and train to be entrepreneurs.