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September 29, 2011

Cool Technologies: QoLT Foundry Speeds Commercialization

By Kristen Sabol

A Virtual Valet that parks and retrieves your car remotely via phone or other mobile device sounds like science fiction, but it may be the next new technology to hit the marketplace from The Quality of Life Technology (QoLT) Foundry.

“I often tell people that I have one of the coolest jobs possible,” said Curt Stone, executive in residence for Carnegie Mellon’s Office of the Vice President for Research and director of the QoLT Foundry. “Our objective is to encourage and develop spin-off companies that can serve to establish the Quality of Life Technology Center as the hub of an emerging industry sector in intelligent health care devices and personal robotics.”

The QoLT Foundry is the industry arm of the QoLT Center, a National Science Foundation Engineering Research Center jointly run by CMU and the University of Pittsburgh. While the QoLT Center focuses on developing intelligent systems that enable older adults and people with disabilities to live more independently, the QoLT Foundry commercializes quality of life technologies for everyone.

The Virtual Valet was one of several technologies presented by the foundry’s Innovation Internship Program at its ninth bi-annual Opportunity Meeting this past summer. The event brings seasoned business advisers, investors, entrepreneurs and regional economic development leaders together with students, faculty and researchers to evaluate research-initiated business opportunities.

Also presented at the meeting were business plans for the Personalized Social Coach, a smartphone app designed to supplement user interactions with their smart home using learned preferences and collected data; and the Embedded Assessment of Wellness, a suite of everyday household appliances equipped with embedded sensors for monitoring and measuring subtle changes in cognitive, physical and functional well-being.
Innovative Interns
The QoLT Foundry’s eight-week Innovation Internship Program includes students from diverse disciplines such as business and management, engineering and technology, health care, and policy and law. They collaborate with industry stakeholders and entrepreneurs on strategies for bringing viable QoLT products into mainstream markets.

To date, 24 students have served as Innovation Interns. Sam Yoosuk Kim, an MBA student at the Tepper School of Business, and Jen Sung, a rising CMU senior who is a double major in economics and decision sciences, are current participants — along with David King, a law degree candidate at Duquesne University.

“I have learned what it takes to transform an idea into a viable company,” King said.  “So many people have great ideas, but only a few are able to impact the world with their work.”         The Opportunity Meetings feature lively debates on the market challenges for each presented opportunity and provide students — who may go on to lead QoLT companies — with suggested areas for further investigation. Thirty-five unique business opportunities have been presented and more than 250 people have participated in the meetings since their introduction in 2008.

Following the Opportunity Meetings, a team of highly skilled and experienced executives-in-residence facilitate follow-up efforts to leverage the input of attendees toward formal company creation. Current executives include: Derek Minno, an experienced entrepreneur with more than two decades of experience in the world of venture capital, notably as CEO and president of Point Capital; Carl Nerup, an active business strategist who has served as an adviser to WeFi, Montagu Newhall of Martini Media Networks and the 
Kellogg School of Management’s Kellogg Innovation Network, among others; and Gary Miller, a successful entrepreneur and executive with extensive management, operational and investment experience in the Internet and technology arenas.

“The QoLT Foundry firmly believes that everyone can benefit from these research-based innovations,” Stone said. “But our focus on commercialization in broader markets is also strategic: as general consumers begin to recognize the appeal inherent in these emerging assistive technologies, we can bring about better economies of scale for those assistive devices that are used by more specific populations. This shift, in turn, should help reduce the reliance on reimbursement models for payment of some health care devices.”

The QoLT Foundry complements CMU’s Greenlighting Startups, a new initiative aimed at accelerating CMU’s already impressive record of turning campus innovations into sustainable new businesses. One of the fastest-growing entrepreneurial universities, CMU has helped to create more than 300 companies and 9,000 jobs in the past 15 years.