The Frontier Series: How an innovation economy helps create jobs
March 12, 2018
Laurie Jugan is a leading innovator in the commercialization community. She is an independent consultant currently supporting the University of Southern Mississippi through the Mississippi Enterprise for Technology at Stennis Space Center and USM’s contract for the formalization of the Marine Industries Science & Technology Cluster. She promotes the Blue Economy of the Gulf Coast region, coordinates events and assists small to medium-sized companies find business opportunities.
Laurie, you are a proven leader in the innovation and commercialization community. Can you share your background and current activities?
I have both a technical and a business background, the combination of the two has served me surprisingly well in my current, second career. I have master’s degrees in oceanography and business management. I worked for a small technology company for 25 years. As you know, in a small company, people have many hats. My hats ranged from conducting research to running a cost center and writing proposals. I’ve held almost every position there is in a small company (never was an owner or president), so I can relate to the issues companies face. Currently, I help companies navigate through the nuances of federal contracting, tech transfer, and working with other companies.
The Gulf region has some strategic advantages in terms of aerospace and manufacturing technology development, universities, corporations and organizations (such as those that make up our innovation ecosystem). Can you give a quick overview of the Gulf’s regional strengths?
Yes, these are traditional industries in the Gulf region that have developed mainly as a result of strong leaders in the area. In aerospace, that leader is NASA. When you have a big name like that, it attracts others in that sector.In manufacturing, innovation has been more university-led, with universities like Mississippi State taking on education/training roles to support these industries.
Can you share some of Mississippi Enterprise for Technology initiatives? What are the key areas for innovation? What are the focus sectors?
MSET is currently entrenched in a whole new look at the Gulf coast economy that focuses on the water asset. This “new” industry, which we are calling the Blue Economy, might even be an addition to the Frontier Conference in years to come. Key innovations in this sector include the use of autonomous unmanned systems. Initially affordable by the Navy and oil & gas industries, we are now seeing smaller, more agile systems being developed for entirely new applications.
I firmly believe that an innovation economy can help to create jobs. This is also part of the MIST Industry Cluster’s core mission. As this is very important to New Orleans, can you elaborate on how jobs can be created through innovation?
First, we are seeing more new startups that focus on advancing a technology. These range from the one-person operation to those that skyrocket to over 250 employees. In this case, inventors are coming up with new designs that take a capability to a whole new level. Second, technology insertion creates new jobs – for example, the Navy at Stennis will be looking for perhaps hundreds of new employees to support their fleet of underwater gliders in the next three to five years.
What are some of the key partnerships in the Gulf region that are focused on innovation and technology transfer?
Collaboration is really key in innovation and technology transfer. It’s not easy to identify a technology and then find a company that can take it to market, then find buyers. That’s why conferences like The Frontier Conference are so important – you never know when the next key partnership will present itself. We partner with federal and state agencies, other tech transfer offices, companies, investors, you name it.
What companies and products have emerged from these efforts?
There are several – I’ll give you two examples. We have a client company that is about to go into production of a small, towed acoustic array that can localize marine mammals in an area. This helps others, whose work makes really loud sounds underwater, know when they can continue or need to temporarily stop their work. Another client is working on using available databases and models to determine if damage to a property was from wind or water following a severe storm.
Several entrepreneurs have tried to commercialize technology. While some were successful, others were not. What is the best advice you have for someone who wants to develop and commercialize intellectual property or a research-driven idea?
Understand the uses of your technology. Many technologists focus on the amazing thing they’ve created. They talk all about its functionality, but do not translate that to what it means to a potential customer. The customer is looking for a solution to his or her problem and needs to know how this new technology will help.
The Frontier was created to bring key industry participants together and highlight Louisiana and the Gulf Region’s key innovation assets. With this said, as a region, what improvements can be made to foster greater cooperation among innovation economy participants (e.g. universities, entrepreneurs, research institutions, corporations, economic development organizations, etc.)?
I think your reference to the area as a ‘region’ says it all. We have to proactively support the region. Many times, we are concerned with boundaries and competition. We have to find ways to work better together and know that any success is the region’s success. Again, opportunities like The Frontier Conference allow us to share information and success stories in other sectors that might be applicable to sectors needing similar solutions.