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$3M lab to boost capability of RIT's Golisano Institute

Rochester Business Journal
March 21, 2014

The Golisano Institute for Sustainability’s estimated $3 million Makers Lab, scheduled to open in late 2014, will be a technology incubator intended to give local, national and global companies another way to grow their business—from startup to maturation.

“One of the great advantages of the Makers Lab is we’re going to be a state-of-the-art (facility),” said Michael Haselkorn, a member of the GIS research faculty at Rochester Institute of Technology.

“A lot of times some of the smaller companies will send the files to India or offshore parts, and once they’re made offshore, they don’t come back to Rochester. But if we have a place where we can do this and do it at a very good cost, when you make a part in Rochester, it stays in Rochester.”

The lab will contain three machine tools, three additive processes and four workstations for computer-aided design drawings and analysis. It will offer metal printing and electronic benches, allowing companies to make circuit boards or specialized parts.

The fourth-floor addition to GIS will be able to house five company projects simultaneously. Offices for those companies in the midst of projects will be available so company employees can work with the GIS team regularly.

It took six months to plan the lab’s functionality as GIS officials looked to schools around the country, including Harvard University and Columbia University, to observe how their labs were run.

Many staffers of the lab and the facility know what businesses are going through, officials say.

“Most of the people who work in that lab, myself included, have spent more time in industry than we have at the university,” Haselkorn said. “We understand their problems, their concerns, their needs. And we can help them.”

The new lab is another enhancement to GIS. Seven years after the institute’s founding, the GIS building has attracted a flock of businesses from the technology and manufacturing sectors. The facility’s capabilities, however, extend well beyond those two sectors.

“Typically, companies that know us, they know (we have an) open-door policy and how we work very closely with industry,” said Nabil Nasr, associate provost and GIS director. “But there are a lot of companies that don’t know us, and they don’t realize that all of this expertise is sitting right here.

“We have a woman from Singapore spending a year here because of all the know-how that we have, and sometimes the companies, especially the small to (midsize) companies, they have that (idea that) ‘universities … those guys might be too much for me.’”

The multidisciplinary academic unit was funded by a $10 million grant from Paychex Inc. founder and chairman Thomas Golisano with the aim of pairing world-class education and research in sustainability and filling a need of the community’s business climate.

GIS has done hundreds of projects through partnerships each year, including efforts with non-profits, government divisions, and schools and universities. Some 25 to 50 projects will be added to that total with the Makers Lab capabilities.

Rochester Midland Corp. was GIS’s first affiliate partner.

“I didn’t know the breadth of capability they had and the depth of capability that they had until I went over there and talked with Nabil and Anahita (Williamson),” said Owen Foster, senior vice president of marketing resources at Rochester Midland. “I would urge anybody who’s looking for either support to set up a meeting and talk with them. They are able to customize and invent things for your particular situation.”

The building’s six research units are the Center for Remanufacturing and Resource Recovery, Center for Excellence in Sustainable Manufacturing, Center for Sustainable Mobility, New York Pollution Prevention Institute (which Williamson heads), Center for Integrated Manufacturing Studies and NanoPower Research Labs.

“There are some of the facilities in the building that we either have used or we’re going to use and have helped us to create our own facilities by learning how they work,” said Richard Kaplan, CEO of Torvec Inc.

Without the option of GIS, some companies would have to look to other cities for expertise, he said.

“We would have to go out of town to do it (testing),” Kaplan said. “There are places in Detroit that have that kind of equipment, and we would have had to do it there. My feeling is the community for the most part doesn’t grasp the huge asset that we have there, and little by little I think they will. It’s a wonderful asset for the business community.”

Other companies that have taken advantage of the resource include Davies Office Refurbishing Inc., Paychex Inc., Xerox Corp., Zinc Air Inc. and Gunlocke Co. Inc.

“We didn’t even know that they offered services to the community until we actually stumbled upon (them),” said Roy Green, director of sustainability for Gunlocke.

The company recently completed a sustainability assessment with GIS.

“You realize that it’s not just a bunch of students working on a project,” Green said. “These are actually full-time people dedicated to doing the project. They’re very detail-oriented. They’re obviously a great resource for the fact that they’ve been in manufacturing. They’ve been in industry, and they understand the same struggles that we are going through.”

If GIS does not have a resource, it has partnerships to tap into, he said.

“Our experience has been extremely positive, and I think going forward it’s a partnership now, not just a project,” Green said.

Partnering with High Tech Rochester Inc. has been an important union for the facility, officials said.

“Our forte is in the advanced technology and the technology development,” Nasr said. “We complement each other, but we’re very different. HTR does not have the scientists, the labs, the researchers.”

Though the institute provides opportunities for technology and sustainable company projects, other resources such as testing, development design and training are applicable to any company in any industry, GIS leaders said.

“Nabil Nasr, he himself is a tremendous asset to the community,” Kaplan said. “He’s so engaged and so smart, not just in engineering but he has a tremendous feel for business and how to approach business. It’s a community asset, and I guarantee you it has and will create jobs in this area.”

Rochester Midland’s Foster believes case studies could help the public realize the facility’s role in their companies.

“If they could use a case history-based approach to show what they’ve done in various technology areas for sustainability within the community or the U.S., that would help the Western New York companies at least appreciate and understand how that could fit into what they do every day,” Foster said.

Ultimately there are industries yet to be tapped by the GIS, officials say.

“We would love for people to know all about the different capabilities that exist here and the expertise that we have here,” Nasr said. “This is not just an academic building; it’s not just an academic program. This truly has a major focus on technology development, technology transfer and economic development for the community.”

3/21/14 (c) 2014 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or email

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