At the Advanced Technology and Manufacturing Institute they happen naturally, they’re going to happen more often and their impacts are positive — for faculty and students, industry professionals and Oregon’s economy.
Located on the HP campus in Corvallis, ATAMI provides an ideal meeting ground for makers of all types where they can produce and test their inventions and collaborate to do things together no one else can. Oregon State University has occupied the building for over a decade, when it was the Microproducts Breakthrough Institute. This year, it will remodel and equip the facility to accommodate the growing needs of innovators, researchers and industry partners, effectively doubling the usable square footage. Simultaneously, the Advantage Accelerator program, which is currently based in downtown Corvallis, will take over the second floor.
Karl Mundorff, co-director of OSU Advantage Accelerator/RAIN Corvallis, says the space will facilitate “natural collisions” between young startups and more established companies. Companies like Inpria, which is developing advanced semiconductor patterning materials, called photoresists, for high-performance electronics.
Inpria COO Ann Carney Nelson remembers the challenges of being a new startup and people telling them they were “crazy for starting a photoresist company.” It was a tall order in an industry dominated by large public corporations. She credits much of their success to an early and strong relationship with Oregon State faculty and students and access to campus facilities. When it became time to build Inpria's first manufacturing facility, ATAMI was an easy choice thanks to its close proximity to Oregon State and the opportunity to support the Corvallis ecosystem. As the company continues to grow, Carney Nelson hopes to give a leg up to the next generation. She sees Inpria acting as a “big sibling company” for the Advantage Accelerator and other ATAMI residents.
As part of the expansion, several professors from the School of Mechanical, Industrial and Manufacturing Engineering will also move into the building. They will join faculty researchers like Brian Paul, a leading mind in the national effort to reinvigorate the U.S. economy through advanced manufacturing. Specifically, Paul’s work focuses on creating modular chemical plants that can be assembled from Lego-like pieces and shipped just about anywhere. Thanks to a multimillion-dollar, multiyear Department of Energy grant, Paul’s work will continue to expand at ATAMI.
Oregon State Vice President for Research Cindy Sagers expects the ATAMI environment to be very stimulating for faculty and students. “It’s not simply commercialization. It’s not simply creating new businesses and new jobs. It’s really about expanding the role of the university in training our students and grad students,” she says. “It’s creating opportunities for them to work more closely with industry, to get exposure to entrepreneurial startups and that mindset.”
New startups will also benefit from access to more sophisticated equipment. The latest plans for the remodel include a maker space where the startups can build prototypes using 3-D printers, circuit board machines, welding stations and electronic manufacturing tools. For example, one current student team has designed a hunting backpack to more comfortably transport bird decoys into the woods. Unsurprisingly, there’s no store in Corvallis that sells components for bird decoy hunting bags, but at ATAMI, Mundorff is confident the team will have everything they need to build their prototype from scratch. It will be a far more streamlined process than cobbling together prototypes in student garages or using a hodgepodge of resources across town — as many teams currently do.
To Sagers, the expansion of ATAMI is not only a logistical shift for the university, it’s a strategic investment in making more businesses faster for Oregon’s economy. “Putting a business accelerator in the middle of a research park is brilliant,” she says. “As those folks are creating, where they are innovating — they have next door the know-how to turn those innovations into potential market opportunities.”
ATAMI is not a singular space for a singular purpose; rather it is the top minds in fields like nanotechnology and advanced manufacturing mingling in one location. Not competing against each other, but knowing fundamentally that they are smarter together.
The Advantage Accelerator plans to be completely moved in by the end of 2018, but Mundorff estimates that it may be a phased move starting as soon as this fall. He’s excited to watch the collisions happen.