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Scenes from The University of Rhode Island

Small high tech firms benefit from research, business planning by URI MBA students

Media Contact: Dave Lavallee, 401-874-5862

KINGSTON, R.I. -- March 8, 2004 -- In the North Smithfield hamlet of Slatersville, a company called Biomedical Structures is developing and producing advanced textiles for surgical use and tissue regeneration.

President John Gray is working with a team of University of Rhode Island graduate students in business to help him gauge the potential demand for his products in key markets.

In Wickford, Ocean State Shipbuilding is using its expertise in advanced composite materials, double-hull and air cushion technology to develop combat vessels for the U.S.Navy. John Hopkinson, its owner and president, is relying on another group of URI graduate students to complete a business plan and marketing studies.

Those are just two examples of a collaboration involving the Slater Centers, the University of Rhode Island's College of Business Administration and five Rhode Island start-up companies that are combining research and development with advanced manufacturing techniques.

Because the start-ups have few employees Biomedical Structures has 10, and Ocean State Shipbuilding has seven—they haven’t been able to focus on business planning and research as much they'd like. That's where five teams of URI master of business administration students come in.

"Their assistance is awesome because we need a document that shows (customers and clients) what we are going to do," Hopkinson said of the students’ work on a business plan. "There is a world market out there for military and commercial vessels, and what the students are doing for us is very beneficial. We are going to use their research."

Other companies working with teams of URI MBA students are G&G Technologies Inc., North Kingstown; Insight Health Care Solutions, East Providence, and CryoWave Advanced Technology Inc., Pawtucket.

Ron Unterman, executive director of the Slater Center for Marine and Environmental Technologies, said he has been working closely with marine and environmental scientists and engineers at URI for about a year. The Slater Centers are four non-profit corporations funded by the state to stimulate economic growth through high wage enterprises.

"Here I was at URI working with scientists and engineers and talking about business development and not more than 100 yards away was an excellent business school that could provide business planning, research and consulting.

"Linking teams of graduate students with companies works to the advantage of the companies, the students, the University and the Slater Centers," Unterman said. "Students learn best by working with real companies. This relationship has tremendous power. With the ability of the MBA students, I knew they could produce materials that would be of real use to the companies."

Under the direction of URI Associate Professor of Marketing Deborah Rosen and URI Management Professor Laura Beauvais, the students meet regularly with leaders of the companies. They started in the fall by preparing research into potential stakeholders of the companies, and are now moving into business planning and market research.

"Because our program is so accelerated, we spend a lot of time with books," said MBA student Nicole Spino, who is working with Ocean State Shipbuilding. "But this experience helps us apply what we are learning in our classes."

At Biomedical Structures, Gray heads a company that designs and manufactures a wide range of biomedical/biosurgical structures including knit fabrics for abdominal repair (hernia mesh) and a non-woven product called Scaftex that is used as a scaffold for cell regeneration. He has customers throughout the United States, as well as Turkey, Germany, Hong Kong, and Portugal.

"But I need you to find the potential demand for our products," he told the URI student team recently at his company. "This will help us to allocate scarce resources to the market segments that show the most promise. While there are competitors, both large and small, we know that there are not that many manufacturers of these specialty medical fabrics and fibers.

"We're really going to use this (student) research, and it is going to be a valuable building block for our company," Gray said.

Jennifer Doherty, who earned her bachelor's degree from URI last spring, is part of the team working with Biomedical Structures. "Being a biology major, this has worked out great for me," said the MBA student. "I find this all very fascinating, that’s why I am focused on the research. You get to see a company being built from the beginning and you get to see the hurdles it has to clear. And John Gray has been really great. Anytime we've had a question, he has always been willing to answer."

"The students are really benefiting from this," Rosen said. "The companies are very receptive, and while the students may not have the exact blueprint for each company, their recommendations will probably end up in the business plans."

She said the excitement and adventurous spirit of the owners of the companies rubs off on the students.

Zhimin Hu, the president and founder of CryoWave, a company that provides innovative products for oil, gas and petrochemical production companies, said the enthusiasm of the students has affected him.

"They really challenge us," said the 1994 URI College of Engineering graduate. "They offer different views and they help us push the boundary."

For Further Information: Deborah Rosen 401-874-5000 Ron Unterman, Slater Center Marine and Environmental Technologies, 401-831-0700