2012 Recipients: Achieving Distinction Initiative Funding

A vital part of Vision 2020 is continued investment in distinctive programs that encourage collaboration across disciplines and departments and are aligned with the University's commitment to providing innovative solutions to regional and global problems. The Achieving Distinction Strategic Investment Program’s competitive process allows for the greatest potential for impact and influence as quickly as possible. Twenty-seven proposals were received for 2012, demonstrating impressive faculty engagement and commitment to our shared vision. Provost Mike Sherman and Vice President George Newkome announced the Achieving Distinction funding following a comprehensive review of the proposals.

Below are excerpts from the three winning proposals.

First award

The University of Akron (UA) Biomimicry Research and Innovation Center (BRIC)

Principal Investigators:

  • Ali Dhinojwala, Department of Polymer Science, College of Polymer Science and Polymer Engineering
  • Matthew Kolodziej, School of Art, Buchtel College of Arts and Sciences
  • Francis Loth, Department of Mechanical Engineering, College of Engineering
  • Peter H. Niewiarowski, Department of Biology, Buchtel College of Arts and Sciences

Second award: A combination of two proposals

1. Creation of a new University-wide Proof-of-Concept Center Framework

Principal Investigators:

  • Steven R. Ash, Department of Management, College of Business Administration
  • Jae-Won Choi, Department of Mechanical Engineering, College of Engineering
  • Jun Jack Hu, Department of Chemistry, Buchtel College of Arts and Sciences
  • Sadhan Jana, Department of Polymer Engineering, College of Polymer Science and Polymer Engineering
  • Kye-Shin Lee, Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, College of Engineering
  • Dale H. Mugler, Department of Biomedical Engineering, College of Engineering
  • Darrell H. Reneker, Department of Polymer Science, College of Polymer Science and Polymer Engineering
  • William H. Schneider IV, Department of Civil Engineering, College of Engineering
  • Jeffrey M. Samuels, School of Law
  • Jiang John Zhe, Department of Mechanical Engineering, College of Engineering

2. Multi-disciplinary Center for Intellectual Property and Entrepreneurialism

Principal Investigators:

  • Jeffrey M. Samuels, School of Law
  • Robert E. Chalfant, Department of Management, College of Business Administration
  • James T. McHugh, Department of Political Science, Buchtel College of Arts and Sciences

About the proposals in depth

About the Biomimicry Research and Innovation Center Proposal

The unparalleled diversity of processes, materials, and resources, in the natural, world offer design solutions for societal challenges ranging from medicine to traffic to economy to sustainable urban growth. But successful translation of designs from nature requires a new way of thinking about the relationship between university research, education and community partners such as government and industry.  We plan to leverage university expertise in biomimetic research to collaborate with regional partners who have developed a business model using Biomimicry as the foundation for the Great Lakes region to become the world’s leader in sustainable innovation, both economically and educationally, powered by technologies inspired from the natural world around us.

Goal - Create an internationally recognized center for biomimicry research, design, teaching and training that is first to market, innovative and without peer in scope and capacity


  • Enhance / expand capacity for biomimicry research and teaching
  • Strengthen regional partnerships through collaboration in research, education and business
  • Create a K-PhD biomimicry education and research ‘ecosystem’
  • Use the Biomimicry Center to extend the “Akron Model”

Executive Summary 

UA, with the collaboration of members of the Innovation Alliance and other Northeast Ohio (NEO) and international and entrepreneurial organizations, is well positioned to create a globally recognized center for innovation, based on the emerging paradigm and discipline of biomimicry.  We describe how we will organize, fill gaps, and extend existing biomimetic research capacity, harness the power of collaboration with NEO business visionaries, who recognize the potential of biomimicry, and use the unique platform of the Integrated Bioscience program to bring together scientists, engineers, business and art and design in the creation of a first of its kind center for biomimicry research and education. The center captures these resources and is shaped by, and operates according to, fundamental principles of Vision2020: Inclusive student access and success, UA serves as catalyst and driver of regional economic development, programs are place-based and globally relevant, mission and activities foster entrepreneurial spirit and collaborative interactions.  Our proposal focuses on strategic investments over a three-year time period. However we will articulate that this three-year period relates directly to Vision 2020. Over the first two years, a firm foundation for the center will be established, followed immediately by launch and formal engagement of the center with NEO regional economic  development efforts in years three – five. The three-year plan will culminate with a mature biomimicry research and education center forming the core of a biomimicry innovation and economic development ecosystem of global significance within 10 years.


About the Proof-of-Concept Framework Proposal

With the guidance of The Deshpande Foundation, the proposed Framework will accelerate the pace of commercialization of UA based technologies in the Akron community by providing an enhanced focus on innovation, technology incubation, entrepreneurship, and job creation. The goal will be to achieve an order-of-magnitude increase in economic impact over the next five years, by leveraging the best practices of the Akron Model, and by even more closely engaging UA faculty, students, and entrepreneurial leaders from the Akron community. This proposal builds upon the collaboration model of the Austen BioInnovation Institute and the i6 Innovation Award that recognized the strong productive partnership between Austen BioInnovation Institute in Akron (ABIA) and UARF in strengthening innovation and technology commercialization. The Framework is a logical next step in building upon the success of the Akron Model to reach and exceed the goals of Vision 2020.

The Framework will be led by a newly recruited Executive Director who will develop and manage an innovation process that includes granting funds to early-stage high impact UA technologies for research, testing, and prototyping (Grant Program). The Executive Director will support commercialization through working with faculty and student inventors, UARF Senior Fellows, Project Executives, and Entrepreneurs-in-Residence. Other regional partner organizations (Catalysts) will also provide support to the innovation process. The Framework will hold several events throughout the year to promote technology commercialization and entrepreneurship (Events). The Framework will recruit UA students, UA alumni and content experts from the region to form Innovation Teams that help mentor and validate technologies once a technology is accepted into the Framework system.

The Framework focuses UA efforts on entrepreneurship through talent identification, outreach, training, and recruiting. The entrepreneurial identification, outreach, and recruiting will occur at Events such as ARCHAngels Network (ARCHAngels) meetings, open houses, and seminars. Entrepreneurial training will occur through intimate involvement between Innovation Team members and Catalysts. These efforts will link entrepreneurs to high impact UA technologies. Innovations Teams will recruit student members broadly across the UA campus, including the Colleges of Business Administration, Engineering, Polymer Science and Polymer Engineering, and Arts and Sciences, as well as the Law School.

The primary goal of this proposal is to create regional economic development with high paying jobs through technological innovation and startup company commercialization. This will move technologies at UA and within the greater Akron community from the laboratory to the market place faster. As a second goal, this proposal will provide educational experiences to UA faculty, students, and the local Akron community in technology commercialization, entrepreneurship, and new business development through hands-on mentoring, training programs, and direct participation in the innovation process.

The Framework will provide strong links between UA technologies and the commercialization process through an entrepreneurial mentorship and proof-of-concept development program supported by UA/UARF personnel who have an excellent record of success in both commercializing and developing emerging technologies. Within five years of establishing the center Framework, there will be a significant, attributable increase in economic development in the Akron community.

UA and UARF already have excellent relationships in a broad regional ecosystem ranging from universities to privately held corporations to philanthropic foundations to governments, with the shared objective of creating high impact economic development in northeast Ohio. Examples of strategic partners that have pledged support to these efforts include: Akron Global Business Accelerator, ARCHAngels, ABIA, the City of Akron, the Deshpande Foundation, Great Lakes Innovation and Development Enterprise (GLIDE), JumpStart, Manufacturing Advocacy & Growth Network (MAGNET), NorTech, the Ohio Board of Regents, Student Venture Fund at the University of Akron, Summit County,UA, UARF, and the University Park Alliance.

About the Center for Intellectual Property and Entrepreneurialism Proposal

The proposal recognizes that an effective innovation ecosystem requires efficient interaction among many different actors. The entrepreneur brings the concept. The financer provides the funds. The management expert helps build the organizational structure. Lawyers guide the founders and management team to reduce the overall risk to the organization, document and define legal relationships among the various actors, and protect the enterprise’s intellectual property, without which innovation cannot thrive.  All of these activities are governed by a legal and regulatory environment that can either promote or hinder growth and innovation.

We envision a multi-disciplinary Center for Intellectual Property and Entrepreneurialism with the expertise to conduct cutting-edge research, while also serving the needs of the innovation ecosystem. The Center would train students across all of the areas described above. Through in-house clinics and external placements, it would serve start-ups and other entrepreneurial efforts. The Center would be a one-stop-shop for entrepreneurial economic development, providing business, financial, marketing, and legal expertise. With a broad perspective, it would also serve as a nonpartisan, unbiased policy forum, researching and debating the relevant issues, and where necessary it would propose legislative change and provide expert counsel at the local, state, and national level. Together, these efforts will directly contribute to President Proenza’s goal of making Northeast Ohio a center of innovation and economic dynamism.

The Center would have three distinct components:

1. A Director and an Intellectual Property Clinician, both members of the Center for Intellectual Property Law and Technology at the School of Law. The Director would be a doctrinal faculty member responsible for overall coordination among the various actors, including developing teams of Law, Business, and other faculty members to conduct the research and provide the services described above. The clinician would guide students in providing legal services directly to entrepreneurs, assuring proper legal structures and protection of intellectual property.  We propose to hire both of these faculty members during Academic Year 2012-13, to begin in August 2013. This aspect of the proposal follows from discussions with President Proenza at a March 20, 2012, meeting with Dean Belsky, Professor Samuels, former Chief Judge Paul Michel and Intellectual Property Advisory Council Member Mack Webner.

2. An Entrepreneurialism Expert, ideally an experienced entrepreneur, in the College of Business Administration. The Entrepreneur would be responsible for bringing the relevant expertise of the College of Business Administration to bear on the various activities of the Center, including advising companies as to their management structure, policies and practices, and providing financial and marketing support.

3. A Public Policy Analyst/Legislative Process Expert and a Public Law Expert with a specialization in Intellectual Property, both in the Department of Political Science, who would be responsible for designing efforts to achieve legislative change and for coordinating the activities of relevant university and private sector actors and others to pursue recommended changes.  These experts also would contribute to recruitment and supervision of interns who will have relevant positions with policy makers in the state government in Columbus and other offices and agencies.