Connecting Ohio Universities with Industry to Drive Innovation

Catching up with Ohio Innovation Exchange after four years of driving industry partnerships

6th April 2022

In October 2018, the Ohio Department of Higher Education and six universities from across the State of Ohio launched the Ohio Innovation Exchange (OIEx). This web-based platform provides a next-generation mechanism to stimulate increased collaboration between Ohio’s universities and industries. Underpinned by high-quality curated data, OIEx is supported by an inter-university network of industry and research professionals.

When the programme launched, Digital Science interviewed two of the project leaders Tim Cain and Jeff Smith on the strategic rationale behind the Ohio Innovation Exchange, their goals for the project and why Digital Science was selected to deliver the solution. Over three years after the launch, we recently spoke again with Tim as well as Jeff Agnoli about how the implementation has gone and what benefits have accrued for Ohio’s universities and industry alike. 

Connecting Ohio universities with industry to drive innovation 3
Dr. Tim Cain is Assistant Professor in the School of Medicine, Ohio University and Executive-in-Residence with Ohio Department of Higher Education (ODHE),  lending experience and insights to the state-wide initiative.


Connecting Ohio universities with industry to drive innovation 2Jeff Smith is Technology Director and leads the Shared Infrastructure division of the Ohio Technology Consortium (OH-TECH), an operational extension of ODHE that also includes that includes the Ohio Academic Resources Network (OARnet), the Ohio Supercomputer Center, and the Ohio Library and Information Network.


Connecting Ohio universities with industry to drive innovation 1Jeff Agnoli is Senior Liaison for Strategic Partnerships in the Office of Corporate Partnerships at The Ohio State University. He has been a regular presenter at NORDP conferences and served as NORDP’s Treasurer. He received NORDP’s Service Award in 2018 for his commitment to the organization and service to his peers.

The Ohio Innovation Exchange (OIEx) provides an openly accessible platform featuring profiles of over 14,000 STEMM-focused faculty experts as well as information about equipment, research support services and intellectual property (IP) from across the higher education system in Ohio. OIEx provides extensive search functionality and an intuitive interface, which allows visitors to find relevant experts and explore each institution’s publications, patents and equipment. It also facilitates connections with the OIEx human network, a team of university-embedded, industry liaisons who help visitors find more information and create relationships with researchers and institutions. 

Connecting Ohio universities with industry to drive innovationCurrently the platform showcases research and resources from 7 participating universities: Case Western Reserve University, University of Cincinnati, Dayton University, the Ohio State University, Ohio University, University of Akron and Cleveland State University. As a statewide initiative, OIEx currently features 2,364 equipment items sourced from across six organisations, as well as 10,909 user profiles, 40,6609 publications, and 11,772 grants. You can read more about the introduction of Symplectic’s new Equipment Profiles in this recent blog post. 


As Tim explains, “Supporting an ecosystem of innovation in Ohio, OIEx was conceived in 2015 as an inter-university initiative to make it easier to find faculty experts, intellectual property/licensable patents, state-of-the-art university equipment, and research support services across multiple universities. Using information collected from Ohio universities — that now include Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland State University, Ohio University, The Ohio State University, University of Akron, University of Dayton, and University of Cincinnati — the program goals were initially realized in the 2018 launch of the OIEx web portal. The evolution of OIEx, which has seen growth in enhanced functionality, searchable assets, and partner schools, is helping to spark university connections with Ohio-based companies and other organizations seeking access to next-generation ideas, translation-ready innovations, and meaningful collaborations that help fuel economic development.”. Jeff Agnoli adds, “OIEx has seen an ongoing commitment from the Chancellor of Ohio higher education and senior government officials, all of whom have been unwavering in their support of Ohio’s ecosystem of innovation and the key role that higher education plays. As one of the programme sponsors says, ‘OIEx is one more tool that facilitates collaboration within the state and beyond.”

Building collaboration and innovation through industry partnerships

While Elements has been able to deliver on requirements since it was  first implemented, there have also been some additional benefits that have accrued. Jeff Agnoli says, “It is hard to measure, but the Intel Corporation has just invested $100m to build a new microprocessor plant in the state, and competitors along with others in their supply chain are also considering a move into Ohio. Intel is also offering Ohio universities and colleges $50m over 10 years to fund research and curricular projectsso you can see how the research funding landscape is changing. It is not only about bidding for federal research grants any more, but also recognizing the value of seeking industry partnerships to help fund discovery, innovation, and economic development.

Connecting Ohio universities with industry to drive innovation 4Ultimately, the success of OIEx and Elements can be seen in the numerous examples where Ohio universities and its industrial communities have collaborated. For example, Jeff Agnoli points to the increased engagement between academia and industry in the strategic sphere. Jeff Agnoli says, “One example that comes to mind is, a firm came to us with a business plan it was looking to develop and needed help. We were able to partner the firm with a capstone project with our students and faculty. This led the firm to develop and refine its business plan and also enable students to get a real-world project.

Looking to the future, OIEx only see further benefits from using Elements to bring them closer to Ohio industry. Tim says, “As we have focused on building broader awareness of and advocacy for this resource-sharing system, many new features and enhancements have been suggested. Two rather intriguing ones stand out. Our university partners have asked if OIEx could be positioned to source information from Ohio businesses advertising internships, sponsoring research, or seeking next-generation workers. Moving beyond a unidirectional flow of information about our universities to a platform where bi-directional exchange could occur is an intriguing challenge and opportunity. From the other side of the table, business leaders often remind us that one key university asset excluded from OIEx, but frequently at the top of their list, is the ability to find qualified students and graduates as they build and grow the next-generation workforce.  Ohio is among those committed to workforce development with universities playing a major role.” These ideas are emblematic of the wider strategy of increased engagement, which Jeff Agnoli describes as increased focus on the amount and level of engagement firms have with OIEx. “Our focus is to increase the amount of engagement business and industry have with OIEx and move them toward becoming engaged partners. For example, if a company has the interest, we seek to move it along the continuum from attending career fairs and creating internships to research contracts and philanthropic activities with our universities.” It seems that the future is bright for both the universities and industrial communities of the state of Ohio.

Visit or read the full updated Ohio Innovation Exchange case study.