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February 10, 2016

Bigelow Laboratory launches venture research centers

Photo / Greta Rybus, Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences
Photo / Greta Rybus, Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences
Graham Shimmield, executive director of Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences, at its East Boothbay campus, where two new centers were recently launched to get ocean-related research into public use more quickly.

Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences has launched two new Centers for Venture Research that will apply business and project management techniques to its ocean-related research projects to get them into public use more quickly.

"This is a more organized approach to translating research for public use," Graham Shimmield, executive director of Bigelow Laboratory in East Boothbay, told Mainebiz.

He added that the centers aim to bridge the gap between what scientists know about the ocean and how that knowledge can be used in policy decisions, for public understanding, for ocean-based products and solutions and ultimately to help boost the state's economy and jobs.

Another benefit to the centers is that they can show meaningful results from the lab's research to private and public funders, which are increasingly asking about the outcomes and impacts of their investments.

"Some 33% to 34% of our total income is from philanthropies and foundations, which comes to $3 million to $3.5 million per year. Federal research grants are another $4.5 million to $5 million per year," he said. "We want to give more visibility and outcomes for the public."

Like venture capitalists evaluating a potential investment, the research centers will gather detailed and comprehensive knowledge of the existing market, differentiate niches, clarify a project's objective and use milestones to measure progress.

The approach aims to move the laboratory's science past focusing solely on problems toward identifying beneficial outcomes, Shimmield said. He added that the centers are a major commitment to taking the laboratory's publicly funded research into a new, solution-based direction.

One center will focus on research in the Arctic and the other on seafood security. Both are hot topics now, Shimmield noted, especially with Portland hosting the Arctic Council meeting Oct. 4-6 of this year. And work on seafood security can help government agencies assess how to manage fisheries stocks, which are being threatened by climate change and other issues.

Nichole Price, a marine benthic ecologist and senior research scientist at the laboratory, is director of the new seafood security-focused center. Christoph Aeppli, a marine chemist and senior research scientist at the laboratory, is director of the Arctic-focused center.

Shimmield said he believes Bigelow Laboratory is unique in moving into this level of detail in overlaying business practices into science to be able to get results from projects out the door faster for public use, though he'd like to share the practice. "We are open to having collaborators in industry or institutions," he said.

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