Tim Maurer (right), Practice Lead, Innovation Insights & Consulting Practice Group and Bob Beinstein (left), Director, Sustainability Innovation at Nerac spoke with MetroHartford Alliance Content Manager Nan Price about Nerac’s role as an innovator in Connecticut and how the state can monetize its innovative talents.
NAN PRICE: How does Nerac stay current with ongoing innovations like Industry 4.0?
TIM MAURER: Nerac was founded as a joint venture between NASA and the University of Connecticut as a regional application center for commercializing IT/IP from the Apollo Space Program. Since that time, we’ve been working with top corporations all over the globe across the entire innovation continuum, including major players here that are serving the world from Connecticut.
Our involvement cuts across everything from materials and sciences and manufacturing processes to Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) and digital transformation. We’re looking at big-picture issues about where the world is going with convergences and new business models.
We help companies evaluate what’s going on out there from different perspectives of research, patent landscapes, ideation, business case development, and business model evaluation. From this perspective, we provide ecosystem vetting and enablement.
Because Nerac has spent so many years working with customers and identifying and creating ecosystems for corporations, we’ve seen many different industries, applications, and convergences. We have some insights about where the world is going and how we can help. One of which is Industry 4.0 and how we can enable wins from technology—that’s core to our very founding.
NAN: Can you give us an example?
TIM: Sure. Locally, we just completed a very large project assessing and examining several cross-cutting and global Internet of Things (IoT) applications for one customer. They’re looking at using analytics from a ground sensor, a satellite, or a drone to discern crop yields.
Globally, we see a new moonshot out there with the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which includes everything from infrastructure and innovation to improving the environment and facilitating wellbeing to increasing people’s economic wherewithal.
Connecticut brings a lot of background across all those different industries and can apply it to Industry 4.0 and automation devices. It’s something the state could benefit from in creating an economic development strategy.
NAN: Let’s talk more about how Connecticut can continue to innovate and economize.
BOB BEINSTEIN: What Tim was describing with the SDGs is so relevant to Connecticut. When he talks about the incredible power of things like the SDGs and tying various pieces together, yes, that’s a global issue, but it’s extremely applicable in Connecticut as well. Infrastructure is a huge discussion in Connecticut today. How do we do it in a way that lifts all boats?
NAN: Exactly. How so?
TIM: I can give you some examples. We’re working with clients to look at using bioplastics instead of petroleum-derived plastics. That’s one thing a lot of our corporations need to do. And we’ve vetted the ecosystem that’s doing that.
UConn for example, has a world-class discipline of engineering for human rights, expertise in agriculture, and an institute of materials science with expertise in bioplastics. It gets into how to use engineering disciplines to tackle the world’s seemingly intractable problems.
As another example, Stanley Black & Decker created a brand called STANLEY Earth, with a goal of developing purpose-driven product technologies that innovate for social good. The brand produced a novel solar-powered drip irrigation system that enables continuous, multiple-season farming.
Connecticut has people who work in the water realm and the capability to bring clean water to places around the world represents a huge opportunity. Connecticut also has a very strong competency in microgrids. Our state has expertise we could share globally to address the goal of everyone getting access to green energy.
So, there are many ways where Connecticut could benefit from Bob’s perspective of a “rising tide lifting all boats” by focusing on the “global goals.” Tens of trillions of dollars in economic opportunity are associated with these goals. We see focusing on the goals as one way where Industry 4.0, IoT, interoperability, collaboration, and ecosystems can all come together to solve specific problems and get different parties participating.
If you look back to the lunar landing, that was accomplished with less computing power than we have on our smartphones. Now consider what we can do with collaboration and helping all these parties to engage in creating the infrastructure improvements across smart agribusiness, smart transportation, smart girds, smart cities, and smart medicine.
There are breakthrough opportunities for many of Connecticut’s existing businesses. Some of them are already well ahead of us, like Stanley Black & Decker, which is a real leader in innovation. The goal is to combine breakthrough innovation with building infrastructure around the world.
BOB: Our core belief around this is that these are all profit-making opportunities. But they require the collaboration—including from businesses throughout the state—to help solve these intractable problems.
Connecticut is poised to be a leader because we already have some of this global thinking going on in the state. We need to develop new revenue sources and expand existing revenue streams, but we also have a tremendous brain trust and a very educated population.
Nerac is very committed to Connecticut—but Connecticut as a supplier to the globe. That’s always been the case when we think back to earlier innovations that took place here in the state like Hamilton Sundstrand, which was developing space suits and parachutes for the Apollo moon exploration program back in the day.
So many different innovations were developed here. Think about all the learnings we’ve achieved from then to today. And now, for the first time in human history, we have the ability to track trends and impact and cause and effect of various actions across the globe. There is absolutely no reason Connecticut can’t play a significant and meaningful role in developing some of these solutions.