By Stan Maddux
WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – Purdue University could form its own human assembly line for developing and selling new products to help farmers and the general public.
The land grant university, already with a sparkling reputation for solving problems with its research, has launched a new faculty innovation and entrepreneurship program.
The school’s College of Agriculture has appointed Christian Butzke, a food science professor at the campus and owner of a business involved in the wine industry, to lead the effort.
Butzke said it’s about tapping into the minds of more faculty members and graduate students at the West Lafayette campus, not just to develop more products and services useful to farmers and other consumers.
Participants will also be given instruction on how to open and run a business offering goods and services they helped create. “It is really about systemically creating commercialization engines coming out of Purdue,” Butzke said.
Typically, research at the university is given to outside sources for developing new technology and marketing the new products. The vision of the new endeavor is more of the same tasks from start to finish being directly tied to the university.
Butzke said determining need for potential new products and services along with other matters related to running a business will be part of his teachings.
“You can have a new idea for a new product, but if nobody wants it or needs it then it’s useless,” he said. “It’s more than just I’m an expert in this science. I’m looking broader to application.”
Butzke will mentor faculty and students considering entrepreneurship and support the College of Agriculture with developing and implementing their business ownership and commercialization strategies.
“Commercialization of Purdue discoveries is crucial in our efforts as a worldwide leader in addressing challenges in food, life and natural resources sciences,” said Karen Plout, the Glenn W. Sample Dean of Agriculture.
Butzke is co-founder of VinSense, a manufacturer of real-time computer mapping software helping wine grape producers in places like California know exactly when and how much to irrigate their crops.
Information from the software, based on soil conditions and other factors like sunlight, also calculates how much fertilizer to apply and when grapes are at their prime for harvesting.
Butzke said he put his knowledge as a wine scientist to work with a computer scientist in creating the products and services offered by the company formed in 2015.
Butzke plans to reach out to faculty members and graduate students in other fields of study at the university like engineering. There are about 300 faculty members in the College of Agriculture. “To bring the talent together is really what it’s all about,” he said.
The program is being coordinated through the Burton D. Morgan Center for Entrepreneurship.
“Dr. Butzke is a wonderful example of a faculty entrepreneur who is innovative and passionate about helping others achieve their dreams,” said Dan Dawes, an advisor for the Purdue Foundry. “We anticipate that other colleges will soon be participating in the program.”
Purdue Foundry is already engaged in turning concepts from faculty and students into companies.
“We look forward to growing this success with the addition of Christian in this role,” said Bernie Engel, associate dean and director of agricultural research and graduate education at the College of Agriculture.
Eventually, Butzke hopes to build a culture where brainstorming to produce useful things for all of society is a natural component of life on campus.
“Having Purdue being this kind of Ag technology hub really for the region and the country where new ideas are coming out on a continuous basis. That’s kind of the general concept,” he said.
Purdue University is ranked the fifth most innovative university in the nation by U.S. News and World Report.