One Federal Grant, Air Force Technology and an Innovation District are Changing the Trajectory of Dayton's Economy

13.04.18 12:46 AM By Jennie Hempstead

The Office of Economic Adjustment's grant acted as the proof-of-concept for a Market-Pull Commercialization Model, bolstered by best practices from SP Global.

In January 2017, WBI released an infographic and blog post on LinkedIn asking the question, "What could move Dayton away from economic complacency and towards innovative resurgence?" That complacency included Dayton's dependence on federal contracts and Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, the state of Ohio's single largest employer.

Commercialization Best Practices

The wheels were already in motion in 2014, after WBI partnered with SRI (and later, SP Global) to commercialize an Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) / University of Cincinnati sweat sensor. A new business, Coresyte, was created with a great deal of interest from companies like Gatorade and Under Armour. Turns out, hydration in collegiate and professional sports is an issue! Muddling through the process, market analysis revealed there may be other technologies developed at AFRL that would be useful to the general consumer. Following that experience, it was clear that assessing market needs BEFORE developing a product increases startup and technology commercialization success.

A Market-Pull framework, one that answers key questions like, "Who buys?", "Who cares?", "Who makes?" was a cultural shift for Dayton. The city's long-standing love affair with invention created a tech-push mentality. Build it, and they will come! While it seemed as if the Barn Gang of Patterson, Wright and Deeds found success with this mentality, the truth is they were industry-minded engineers driven to provide solutions to consumers. WBI began to develop a market-pull model with the intention of pulling technologies out of AFRL with user needs at the forefront.

As WBI was solidifying it's market-pull framework, an opportunity to prove it's validity emerged. In 2016, the Office of Economic Adjustment awarded a grant to the Dayton region with the purpose of decreasing dependency on federal dollars. Wright State Research Institute, tasked with managing the effort, looked to WBI to test this market-pull framework. Adding strategic partner SP Global to the effort, the framework produced some exceptional results. Most importantly, it's a model that aligns to Midwestern values, which allows Dayton's culture to accept smart risks.

Alongside the OEA effort is the emergence of Dayton's Innovation District, based at 444 E. Second St. WBI partner,The Entrepreneurs Center (TEC) is leveraging their $6M funding to build the infrastructure needed to position startups for success. Because ideas will receive extensive market analysis before a company or product is developed, investors are attracted to the region. WBI's Competitive Integrated Intelligence (CI2) team is helping AFRL technologies find their ideal markets. Dayton-based Redspark is helping to fill the market analysis gap as well.

As other Midwestern cities look at ways to revitalize their economies, Dayton may become the benchmark for reinvention. Click here to download the complete report, with key findings and guidance for startups interested in implementing a market-pull framework.

Special thanks to partners SP Global and The Entrepreneur's Center for supplying data for this report.