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2021 IEP Innovation Finalist Spotlight: Ohio University

September 20, 2021

Dr. Joseph Shields, Vice President for Research & Creative Activity

Ohio University (OHIO) focuses on research that builds vibrant communities; aligns its resources around an institution-wide commitment to regional economic engagement; and, through partnerships with state and federal agencies, leverages public resources as a part of its financial commitment to improve the regions and communities it serves. As an economically engaged and IEP-designated institution, Ohio U LogoOHIO relies on the Economic Engagement Framework to continually innovate, implement, and assess economic efforts. COVID-19 has had a profound impact across all sectors, including higher education, and OHIO continues to embrace innovation as the key to addressing ever-changing regional, national, and global challenges utilizing the structure provided by the IEP designation’s framework. 

Case Study #1 examines the Stirling Ultracold acquisition and the innovative ways that TechGROWTH Ohio and OHIO supported that company’s launch, growth, and success. Stirling Ultracold is a privately held developer and manufacturer of ultra-low temperature (ULT) freezers. TechGROWTH Ohio, a program of Ohio University's Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Affairs, was the original lead investor in Stirling Ultracold. TechGROWTH Ohio helps bring ideas to market by providing access to industry experts and strategically aligning resources to accelerate commercialization. Since Stirling Ultracold's 2010 inception, TechGROWTH Ohio has provided continual financial support through growth and startup coaching.  In 2021, OHIO celebrated the acquisition of Stirling Ultracold by publicly traded BioLife Solutions, representing the largest venture-backed exit in southeast Ohio. 

The Ohio University Innovation Center (OUIC) also assisted with the company’s research and product development by serving as a product beta-user and an auxiliary laboratory testing resource. This company’s growth and acquisition would not have been possible without OHIO’s commitment to its success. As its products enable the storage and distribution of vaccines, the company is also a prime example of an enterprise nurtured from its inception by the university and now serving at the forefront of COVID-19 vaccination efforts. 

Case Study #2 highlights OHIO graduates who harnessed wildly innovative new ideas and launched companies with global economic impacts. These creative thinkers and entrepreneurs are role models for current and future generations. 

Alan Schaaf, a 2010 OHIO graduate, developed the idea and wrote the code to enable the launch in 2009 of, an image hosting and sharing site. Schaaf was recruited by the OUIC, which assisted in growing his venture in partnership with TechGROWTH Ohio. Imgur has subsequently received $60 million in investments from venture capital firms including Andreessen Horowitz. 

Matthew Benson, a 2019 graduate of OHIO, launched eFuse while still a student. eFuse is a professional hub for esports and video games. The sports platform announced a $1.4 million seed round investment in 2019 from The Ohio Innovation Fund (OIF), an OHIO-backed venture fund where Benson worked as a student intern. OIF boasts a strong track record of building high-growth startups and now looks to Benson and eFuse to continue that trajectory.

Amanda (Way) Epp is a 2007 OHIO graduate. Epp serves as the chief executive officer & founding team member of Scriptdrop. Scriptdrop provides uninterrupted access to critical medication. As stay-at-home orders increased during the pandemic, ScriptDrop accelerated their timeline for rollout of patient-initiated delivery from 1.5 years to just 1.5 months in response to the public health crisis. Epp is building a company that promotes better health outcomes and robust economic development.

Case Study #3 illustrates how and why the OUIC pivoted to a sector-specialized incubator. The OUIC - an internationally acclaimed tech business incubator - provides an innovative model with executive coaching, offices, laboratories, and world-class equipment, all designed to assist startups with their launch and growth. 

After exhaustive market research by OUIC leadership, gaps were identified in biotechnology laboratory availability, sector expertise, and laboratory equipment offerings. Motivated in part by the additional pressure caused by the pandemic, the OUIC accelerated its economic development strategy within the science sector. OUIC is now uniquely positioned to support life science and biotechnology ventures. Recent employment data backs the shift to a sector-focused incubator and the market-driven sector specialty ensures the center's long-term financial sustainability in an era of remote work. 

OHIO links and leverages economic and community engagement projects with many federal agencies, the State of Ohio, JobsOhio, OhioSE, regional and local development districts, Athens County, and the City of Athens. OHIO's partnerships with government agencies have long been celebrated as a differentiator as compared to its peers. 

A promising practice at OHIO can be observed in the depth of consistency found throughout the entrepreneurial pedagogy, partner communication, curriculum delivery, and across all OHIO’s collaborative economic development partnerships in the region. From the teaching in the classroom to the creative partnerships nurtured throughout the region and beyond, efforts are made to use the same vernacular and achieve consistency in approach, embracing the lean launch methodology and maintaining laser-focus on overarching strategies and new opportunities for innovation. 

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