Hi there! We’re students at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI), and over the spring semester in Spring 2016, we collaborated on a research project with MANN+HUMMEL. Running under the direction of Dr. Lois Peters in the Lally School of Management, we undertook a study of a novel technology that MANN+HUMMEL is attempting to commercialize. This played into the goals of the class, Commercializing Advanced Technologies (CAT). CAT, as we like to call it, is an experiential course designed to allow students to investigate a technology, evaluate its potential, design a business model, and attempt to see how far the technology can go.
First, a bit of background about ourselves. Joel Janke is a PhD student from Canada in the biomedical engineering department here at RPI, following a Bachelors in Cellular, Molecular, and Microbial Biology from the University of Calgary. Tyler King is getting her Masters in Business Management, following a Bachelors in Electronic Media, Arts, and Communication from RPI. Willing Glatfelter is getting a Masters in Technology Commercialization and Entrepreneurship, following a Bachelors in Chemical Engineering from RPI. We wanted to be involved with this project because the technology that MANN+HUMMEL is working with has potential applications in the biotechnology and pharmaceutical industries.
At the start of the semester, we met with Mr. Wilde, a manager of Innovation Management at MANN+HUMMEL. Over the course of the meeting, we were introduced to the technology, the goals and expectations of MANN+HUMMEL, and the other people involved with the technology: Heike Rupp and Dr. Steffen Schutz. The last two are involved with creating the technology of interest: a new type of ceramic membrane. While MANN+HUMMEL has traditionally been involved with gas and liquid filtration, especially in automotive uses, they are looking to branch out into other industries. They are excited about this new ceramic membrane, which could potentially allow them to enter the pharmaceutical industry.
It was an interesting experience, as MANN+HUMMEL and Dr. Peters had some differing goals for the project. On the more academic side, the project was designed to proceed through three checkpoints, or Learning Loops as they’re called. These are designed to provide a framework for the investigation and evaluation of the technology.
The first learning loop is designed to allow students to understand the technology, and come up with potential uses for it. Research into the markets for the technology, its maturity, and other measures were used to form a more concrete vision of the technology. Potential applications were identified through spider diagrams, and the benefits of the technology were illustrated with technology translation tables. The second learning loop was dedicated to identifying assumptions and underlying uncertainties associated with the technology at hand. Additionally, we focused in on a number of select applications that we felt the technology was best suited for. In the third and final learning loop, we attempted to provide answers for the assumptions and uncertainties, as well as develop a rough business plan and provide our final recommendations for the future of the technology.
On the other hand, MANN+HUMMEL wanted a more structured project that was at first focused on a single application of the technology. Balancing the demands of both the academic and corporate sides was interesting, and forced us to consider a number of different applications. Over the course of the project, however, we managed to finalize a vision for the technology, and satisfy both parties. Interestingly enough, our research lead us to conclude that the best business segments for the technology actually exist outside of their desired use.
Over the course of the project, we found it quite interesting to work with a company that possessed a working technology. A number of the other groups in the CAT class were working with patents or scatterbrained inventors, which provided for a much more nebulous set of goals and checkpoints. MANN+HUMMEL provided a strong set of goals and deliverables, which allowed us to focus on the checkpoints that they were interested in. One point that we realized we could have improved was out communication of our results. This was a limiting factor that held us back, as we would focus on certain topics without a clear vision. Looking back on the project, we feel that this was quite a fun and interesting project. MANN+HUMMEL provided us with a fascinating technology, and the opportunity to collaborate with a world-class industrial company.