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September 28, 2016

Classes, research activity emerging at ETI

Activity is amping up at FGCU’s newest facility, the Emergent Technologies Institute.

Classes met in the building for the first time this fall, an institute has leased space for research and FGCU’s corporate neighbor Hertz is poised to collaborate with students on an engineering project.

Students in the Institute for Entrepreneurship's Runway Program collaborate with each other and use state-of-the-art technology at the ETI.
Students in the Institute for Entrepreneurship’s Runway Program collaborate with each other and use state-of-the-art technology at the ETI.

That represents just the beginning for the research and development complex located north of the FGCU campus off Alico Road. Its 25,000-square-foot building was designed to support new educational initiatives, enhance the regional workforce and economic development and foster collaboration involving higher education, government, industry and the local community.

“We’re going to make this place hum,” says Dr. Richard Behr, Dean of the U.A. Whitaker College of Engineering, which has the ETI under its organizational oversight. “We have the opportunity to raise the game in sustainability.”

Helping to make that happen is new ETI Director Dr. John Woolschlager, an environmental engineering professor who was named the Backe Chair in Renewable Energy and who will develop FGCU’s engineering graduate programs. Woolschlager earned his doctorate at Northwestern University and most recently served as director of the Center for Sustainability at St. Louis University; he also was the founding chairman of SLU’s civil engineering department.

ETI Director John Woolschlager, right, and U.A. Whitaker College of Engineering Dean Robert Behr talk about the ETI with visitors.
ETI Director John Woolschlager, right, and U.A. Whitaker College of Engineering Dean Robert Behr talk about the ETI with visitors.

Woolschlager joined FGCU in August, succeeding Dr. Joseph Simmons, who retired this fall after developing the ETI plan over several years and seeing it through construction.

“Our No. 1 priority is externally funded research that aligns with our goals and mission to advance sustainable energy and biotechnology,” Woolschlager says. “The main focus is on engineering, science and business and applied research with commercial applications. It’s a niche that can impact Southwest Florida in areas such as health care and environmental issues.”

The ETI’s other main strategic goals are: leading development of new graduate engineering programs starting with sustainable energy and environmental/ecological engineering; conducting outreach activities that raise public awareness of emerging technologies and sustainability issues locally and beyond; supporting entrepreneurship and industry partnership in sustainable energy and technology; and promoting regional economic diversification and job growth.

A nine-member task force was recently appointed to develop an action plan and methodology for evaluating entrepreneurial opportunities at the institute, which is the first project in the Innovation Hub (IHub), a 240-acre development planned as a magnet for technology and research companies. The ETI’s labs, classrooms and high bays are easily adaptable to a range of projects large and small, and most of the furnishings are on casters to allow for easy moving. Its grounds offer ample open space for conducting outdoor experiments as well as demonstrating new technology for visitors.

One of the ETI classrooms.
One of the ETI classrooms.

The institute already is serving as a startup incubator for the Lutgert College of BusinessInstitute for Entrepreneurship.  Through the institute’s interdisciplinary Runway Program, teams of students are challenging their innovative capabilities by developing new companies with help from entrepreneurship faculty and mentors. The goal is to help them expand their knowledge and resources for starting a business. At the ETI, they have access to the facility’s state-of-the-art prototyping equipment, including 3-D printers, high-end cameras and cutting-edge software.

At the end of the 12-week program, students will pitch their launch plans to an investment committee that will determine which are eligible for a grant to accelerate their business. Upon completion, students will be prepared to compete in venture competitions across the state.

Other activities at the ETI include a nascent collaboration with Hertz Corp. involving software engineering students. The project entails developing technology to allow an electronic gate to scan rental vehicles for automated check-out and check-in.

The Clinical and Translational Genome Research Institute also has leased space at the ETI. Partnering with area physicians and healthcare systems, the nonprofit group is researching how commonly prescribed medications might be geared toward patients’ genetic characteristics. “Now that we have the technology to analyze each person’s unique DNA code and biochemical characteristics, we can start treating each person’s condition taking into account our individual genetic differences,” the institute’s website says.

The ETI will host an open house with members of the U.S. Green Building Council’s Florida Chapter at 5:30 p.m. Oct. 6. The event is open to the public. Register online.

For more information about the Emergent Technologies Institute facilities, contact Dr. John Woolschlager.