The Bison Microventure is an innovation team that operates at North Dakota State University. It is best characterized as a learning experience in innovation and productization. It is part of a loose Bison Ventures Network, involving the College of Engineering and Architecture, the College of Business Administration and the Center for Technical Enterprise. Other colleges at NDSU and throughout the Tri-College (NDSU, Minnesota State University-Moorhead, Concordia College) area also occasionally participate in Bison Ventures.
In our parlance, ‘innovation teams’ combine learning, invention and entrepreneurship. Bison Ventures are principally learning experiences for students. The goal is to provide an opportunity for students to learn entrepreneurial skills and to create an environment that encourages the development and launch of student-led enterprises, while pursuing learning on the cutting edge of technology. Although the learning process is the dominant purpose, the Bison Ventures Network also provides assistance in filing patents and other intellectual property protection. Likewise, a desirable, though not necessary, outcome would be the forming of new enterprises by innovative and entrepreneurial students. Encouragement and assistance in venture formation and development is also provided to those innovation teams who evolve to that state.
Bison Microventure students enroll in a one-credit elective course that meets for two hours every Thursday evening (5 to 7 pm). The course can be repeated for credit. Course learning objectives are to develop skills and competencies in …  translation of laboratory research into commercial products and/or processes;  creating and maintaining intellectual property;  application of micro-technologies in medical and dental devices. Class meetings are treated much like project meetings in industry -- reports of what each person has accomplished during the preceding week, team-wide discussion of these items and establishment of specific tasking for each team member for the following week. Students document their work in intellectual property journals, by occasional special reporting and through end-of-term summary reports.
Team meetings also include guest speakers and field trips. To date, guest topics have included primers on orthopedic surgery, manufacture of dental prostheses, advanced imaging technologies, and intellectual property documentation. Field trips have included travel to the Medical Device Manufacturing Exhibition in Minneapolis (in 2007, 2008 and 2009) and visits to companies and laboratories engaged in research in biomaterials and biomechanics, in manufacture of dental implants, cardiovascular surgical tools, stents and pacemakers, and in production of advanced instrumentation.
The Bison Microventure is multi-disciplinary and multi-level, and it is entering its fourth year during Autumn semester 2010. Over the first six semesters, average team size has been about nine (range: 6 to 12), with students from nine majors in five colleges enrolled for one or more semesters. The Spring 2010 team numbered eleven (seven from various engineering majors; four with majors in the biosciences). The team is mentored by six people—a manufacturing engineering professor, a physical biochemistry research faculty, a biological sciences research faculty, a bioengineering researcher and two manufacturing engineering laboratory technicians.
The learning objectives are pursued through a project. The current Bison Microventure project began as the development of a ‘hydrophilic porous ceramic dental implant’; however, the utility of this product has expanded towards a more generally-applicable bone scaffold. The focus is on pursuing the laboratory studies, product and process design work, testing and experimental evaluation, market assessment and business planning to create a commercially viable product concept -- students learn about innovation by being innovative. The team is cognizant of requirements for FDA approvals and certification. At this point, the concentration is on product definition, manufacturing process development and pre-clinical laboratory evaluation (both biological and mechanical).
Project work during the current academic year builds on work done in the preceding years. Prior effort examined the general field of dental prosthetic surgery and established broad product objectives, studied open literature, selected suitable materials for the target product, and began the design and development of manufacturing processes. As the work has advanced, manufacturing techniques have become more refined and significant experimental biological evaluation has been launched. It has become clear that the product concept has a wider application; it may well be usable for a broad range of orthopedic surgeries. The primary focus during the present year will be on biological and mechanical evaluation of representative implant samples, refinement of the product concept, and continued development of manufacturing processing methods-- all building on some exciting laboratory results from last Spring.
Baseline osteointegration studies use surgical-grade titanium alloy to set the stage for experimentation with ceramic forms. In vitro experiments in bone cell growth have begun and will be continued for some time. The team maintains two different bone cell lines to support these experiments. Very exciting results were obtained in Spring 2010, showing preference of osteoblasts for hydrophilic surfaces and tending towards confirmation of one of the underlying hypotheses of this project. A prototype permeable ceramic construct for proof-of-concept has been designed, specifying alumina as the basic ceramic, and proof-of-concept experimental evaluation is underway. Later experiments will use additions or substitutions of hydroxy apatite, yttria-stabilized zirconia and other materials. The first manufacturing process being evaluated is compaction-and-sintering, to be followed later by process development in ceramic injection molding, additive manufacturing and perhaps other methods.
Principal threads for project work are as follows:
- Product Definition
- Manufacturing Processing
- Mechanical Properties Evaluation
- Biological Evaluation
- Business Development
Tasking in these five technological threads have given rise to a significant effort in investigating imaging and measurement at the micro-scale. Intermediate results of Bison Microventure work have launched a parallel study of advanced measuring methods, including optical, x-ray, ultrasonic and electron microscopy, and computed tomography. Additional parallel studies have begun to examine the effects of a new protein-tagging technology on growth of bone cells and to devise processing methods for sol gel coating of metal and ceramic substrates. These and other spin-off topics provide additional opportunities for both students and faculty to participate in cutting-edge technologies.
For further information, contact: Dr. David L. Wells, Professor, NDSU Industrial and Manufacturing Engineering, 141 Dolve Hall, (701) 231-7283, email: email@example.com
Dr. John R. Bagu, Director, Organic Spectroscopy Laboratory, Department of Chemistry, 214 Ladd Hall, (701) 231-5691, email: firstname.lastname@example.org