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New position moves NRRI, UMD research from lab to market

Two men looking at piece of dark wood in mechanical testing lab.
November 28, 2017

Industry needs more early investment in research to drive innovation, according to Tim White. And he saw right away that innovative research is what NRRI delivers.

"Industries tend to innovate incrementally. But what I’m seeing at NRRI are leapfrog innovations."

“It’s a bit overwhelming. There’s so much potential here,” said White during his third week on the job in November. Forming the new position of NRRI’s Business Development and Intellectual Property Manager, White is driving what he calls “Strategic Opportunism,” being nimble enough to catch opportunities while strategically staying on the right path. Ultimately, he wants to find the right partners and pathways for NRRI innovations to reach commercial success.

White is learning about NRRI advances in improving wood performance, renewable alternatives to coal, advanced road repair products with waste Iron Range rocks…. and he’s excited to play the role of catalyst that can move ideas out of the lab.

“It’s not the first thing on researchers’ minds to patent ideas and disclose it to a tech transfer office, so my job will be to help unlock the potential and move things forward,” said White. “My goal is to make sure Minnesota gets a return on its investment to NRRI.”

And he literally can’t sit still. His NRRI position is to be a liaison to the University of Minnesota’s Office of Technology Commercialization on behalf of NRRI researchers, as well as innovations coming from the UMD campus and the Center for Economic Development. He’ll be splitting his time between all three places.

“I’ve been meeting with inventors and scientists, trying to understand their decades of research and think about what might be missing to move it forward to commercialization,” said White. “I’ve never worked with so many highly intelligent, credentialed people in my life.”

His background is a good complement to NRRI’s applied research and UMD’s academic goals. White spent the last 12 years with Kohler Company, a diverse business manufacturing everything from plumbing and generator products to chocolate and brandy. What he honed there was a skill in product development; understanding how to develop the commercial side of something new. In his last role at Kohler, he was responsible for creating and running an innovative water filter business that provided people in developing countries with safe water.

“Industries tend to innovate incrementally,” said White. “But what I’m seeing at NRRI are leapfrog innovations. It’s a really exciting, totally different scale of innovation.”