Ohio State Start-Ups Expected To Double This Year

Listen to the Story

Ohio State senior Austin Miller created a company called Emeritus with the help of the university's Technology and Commercialization Office. Miller's technology is supposed to help teachers and students communicate in real time more efficiently.(Photo: Mandie Trimble, WOSU News Reporter)
Ohio State senior Austin Miller created a company called Emeritus with the help of the university's Technology and Commercialization Office. Miller's technology is supposed to help teachers and students communicate in real time more efficiently.(Photo: Mandie Trimble, WOSU News Reporter)

Some of us may have thought about an invention that could help make life a little easier. But without the resources or connections to make it happen, the bright idea goes dark and it’s left for someone else to create.

At Ohio State University, the Technology and Commercialization Office helps students and faculty turn their idea into reality. This year, the TCO expects to double the number of start-up businesses fostered by the office. WOSU’s reports on a couple of OSU innovators whose ideas are well on their way to success.

Innovation often precedes a problem or an inconvenience. For Ohio State senior Austin Miller using his personal text messaging plan for a class inspired an idea.

Miller’s statistics professor required class participation via text message.

There’s technology out there that would allow instructors to get instant class responses, like a text message, but the student would have to purchase a special gadget. And Ohio State has to buy receivers to enable the equipment. It’s kind of complicated. Miller thought there had to be an easier, cheaper solution.

“There’s all this WiFi. Why are we bothering using up texting plans and things like that? So that’s the genesis of the idea.”

Miller “googled” his way through writing code for an application – often called an “app” – that would allow students and teachers to instantly communicate using existing WiFi and cellular networks. Like many people with a good idea, Miller wasn’t sure what to do next.

The Technology and Commercialization Office heard about Miller’s idea and contacted him.

“I was just slightly above conceptual, I think. My background is in graphic design, so I pretty much faked it like I had done a lot more than I really had,” he laughed.

TCO connected Miller with software developers, new venture experts and potential investors. His concept quickly took shape.

Miller’s company, by the way, is called Emeritus. His software app is expected to be tested in several Ohio State classrooms this summer.

“The process is on-going, but every day it gets a little bigger,” Miller said. “You know, now I’m just sitting here talking about it; thinking back, like, oh yeah, wow, I came in here with an idea. And just through TCO it’s becoming a reality. It’s exciting.”

Paul Reeder sees that kind of excitement every day. He directs TCO’s Ideation Lab where concepts are cultivated. Entreprenuers, Reeder said, are driven, but when they have guidance…

“They’re able to actually launch this thing in a much shorter period of time just because we’re really going to be able to help all the way along.”

Speaking of time, a company called inmobly hopes to help speed up mobile streaming. This start-up is a faculty product of Ohio State’s TCO.

Liza Reed speaks for and directs product development for inmobly, created by OSU engineering professor Hesham El Gamal.

“Anyone’s who’d had a smartphone has definitely had the experience where you’re streaming music or you’re streaming a video and you get that white [buffering] wheel, and [the device] just slows down,” Reed said. “And sometimes it’s like at terrible times: the peak of the song, or soccer a highlight, or the goal or whatever. And it’s very frustrating and it’s incredibly unnecessary.”

inmobly’s technology is supposed to do two things: help with mobile streaming and reduce the Internet bandwidth crunch.

The application called PAUL, which stands for Predictive Automated User-Centric Loading, identifies music and videos people like and downloads new content to their mobile device BEFORE the user tries to stream it from the Internet.

“Right now, your apps require this Internet connection. But with something like the PAUL technology you don’t need that anymore,” she said. “The technology takes advantage of the Internet connection when it has it and the user isn’t handcuffed to needing a 4G connection, for example, to consume their content.”

Theoretically, the PAUL app would download content during off-peak Internet hours, so bandwidth space would free up during PEAK hours since PAUL app users would be off-line.

PAUL app only works with ESPN, YouTube, CNN, Facebook, Twitter and a free music site for now. But Reed said there is room to expand to other audio and video content providers.

It’s this kind of success that energizes Brian Cummings. Cummings became TCO’s vice president in 2011. Since then, the number of start-ups has nearly tripled. This year, the office expects about 12 new businesses from Ohio State students and faculty.

“It’s really a big undertaking in that everything that we try to do we look at: what’s the value of that? What are the outcomes we’re trying to achieve? What’s the public good? And how do we build the right eco-system to bring the right people together to take those great ideas and turn them into something that’s very impactful.”

While TCO helps get innovations off the ground, its work benefits Ohio State’s coffers. The university has some rights revenue generated by companies, like inmobly. In 2012, OSU received nearly $2.8 million in total revenue from start-ups, a 42 percent increase over the previous year.

Because Emeritus’ Austin Miller is an undergrad, he, not OSU, owns his company’s intellectual property. But Miller says he’ll broker a revenue deal with the university.

“There’s not a question, if this works or if it’s the next thing or whatever it may be, I will be coming back here with money to invest in [TCO],” he said. “I think it’s worth it for anybody who just has an idea and doesn’t know what to do with it. This is the place to help them get from point A to point B.”

Non-OSU dreamers can pitch ideas the second Friday of each month in an open community TCO session called WakeUp StartUp.