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Wednesday, Oct 01, 2014

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Rob Portman

Sen. Portman models Google Glass technology with Christian Sagardia, a Russ College of Engineering and Technology graduate student in electrical engineering and computer science.

Photographer: Rebecca F. Miller

Rob Portman

Institute for Corrosion and Multiphase Technology staff Srdjan Nesic, Marc Singer and Bruce Brown explain the technology behind the institute's $20 million facility.

Photographer: Rebecca F. Miller

Rob Portman

Senior computer science major Taffie Coler demonstrates to Sen. Portman one of the apps developed by her company, LiveInteractive, which is run by a group of nine Ohio University students.

Photographer: Rebecca F. Miller

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Sen. Rob Portman visit focuses on technology startups, research


In between floor sessions in Washington, D.C., over federal unemployment benefits, Sen. Robert Portman, R-OH, visited Athens on Friday for a firsthand look at Ohio University’s research and entrepreneurship initiatives at the Innovation Center and Institute for Corrosion and Multiphase Technology.

Portman said federal investment in scientific research, improvement of STEM education, and regulatory reform to help small businesses create jobs are the keys to keeping America’s workforce competitive and employed.

“That basic research pays off in huge ways,” Portman said. “This is a great example of where a university in Ohio is helping to create jobs through commercializing some of the research that’s being done.”

At the Innovation Center, Vice President for Research and Creative Activity and Dean of Graduate College Joe Shields and Innovation Center Director Jennifer Simon discussed the high tech small business incubator program and its successes in southeastern Ohio. Athens biotechnology firm Diagnostic Hybrids, Inc., now a Quidel company, started at the center; other graduates include Third Sun Solar, Electronic Vision and Imgur.

The Innovation Center is part of an overall entrepreneurial ecosystem at Ohio University. Over the past decade, with a boost from the state of Ohio's Third Frontier program, longtime university programs that support faculty research, technology commercialization and business startups have partnered with government entities and private venture capital firms to create a pipeline for new high-tech companies in the region.

“This is an example of something really great that’s happening in our community and will help create jobs well beyond Athens County,” Portman said.

Portman met several student entrepreneurs, including Russ College of Engineering and Technology electrical engineering graduate student Christian “Rico” Sagardia, co-founder of Razor Dynamics. This summer, Sagardia’s company completed Ohio University’s Innovation Engine Accelerator program, including mentorship, business plan counseling and seed funding, to launch his mobile application development firm with co-founder Gary Grant, an undergraduate majoring in computer science.

On Friday, Sagardia helped Sen. Portman test out one of the company’s applications for Google Glass, the technology company’s wearable mobile device integrated into a pair of eyeglasses.

Portman’s visit also included a tour of the Russ College’s Institute for Corrosion and Multiphase Technology, located next to the Innovation Center west of campus and the largest research facility of its kind in the world dedicated to solving corrosion challenges in the oil and gas industry.

Center Director Srdjan Nesic said initial federal investment in the early stages of research at the center helped springboard its industry partnerships to the point where it is now fully funded by leading companies from across the globe. Nesic noted there is potential for applying this model to expanding research in the hydraulic fracturing industry in the region.

“We are such a large, important laboratory on a global scale, but we’re relatively unknown in Ohio and particularly in southeast Ohio,” Nesic said, explaining that overlap between the two energy technologies could benefit from the center’s expertise. “We’re raising awareness of what we can do and asking the senator and his team to help spread the word about how we can help more with local development.”

Portman said his office would support the Innovation Center’s application for grant funding to accommodate further business and jobs growth in Ohio, as well as appropriate funding sources to bring the Corrosion Institute’s expertise to the current challenges in the shale gas industry.

“We very much appreciate Senator Portman's interest in Ohio University's efforts to create new technology companies and partner with industry,” Shields said. “We are also grateful for his endorsement of a strong federal role in support for research underpinning these efforts.”

Andrea Gibson contributed to this report.