Thursday, June 15, 2017

This afternoon, representatives from University of Iowa Office of Research and Economic Development (OVPR&ED), the City of Iowa City, the Iowa City Area Development Group (ICAD), and the John Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Center hosted a grand opening of three new economic development resources: MERGE, protostudios and the Translational Research Incubator (TRI).  

“This state is teeming with passionate innovators and creative entrepreneurs. One of the University of Iowa’s roles–and my own passions–is to nurture and unleash that talent,” said UI Vice President for Research and Economic Development Dan Reed. “Incubation means providing or finding the right mix of space, equipment, time, resources, and support to help ideas germinate. If we do it right, the ideas put down roots and grow tall in the rich soil. We create jobs; we attract and retain talent; and we grow the knowledge economy--everyone wins.”

Managed by the Iowa City Area Development Group and renovated with funding from OVPR&ED, MERGE is designed to create and cultivate a knowledge ecosystem for entrepreneurs and startups, offering vital resources and connections to successfully create, launch and grow new companies in Iowa’s Creative Corridor. The MERGE co-lab space includes dedicated offices, conference rooms, business resources and community events.

Protostudios is a “dry lab” for advanced prototyping and machining located in MERGE and the Department of Physics & Astronomy in Van Allen Hall. (A prototype is the preliminary model of a product that can then be tested so the design can be tweaked and demonstrated before it is manufactured commercially.)

In the same way the Iowa City Bike Library offers “rent-a-bench” where cyclist can fix their bikes under the supervision of a more experienced cyclist, protostudios offers state-of-the-art 3D-printing and milling equipment as well as expert technicians to work alongside Iowa innovators to develop top-of-the-line prototypes.

“It’s the hybrid DYI of prototyping,” said protostudios Engineering Prototype Director Neil Quellhorst. “There are many places where you can fork over a lot of money and they will do all the prototyping work for you. We provide assistance when needed. At protostudios, inventors have a lot more ownership over the prototyping process.”

Since its soft launch this spring, protostudios has attracted a number of innovators who had a great idea and wanted to test it out. One included Matthew Howard, M.D., a neurosurgeon at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics and founder of Direct Spinal Therapeutics.   

“Surgeons are coming out of the woodwork with great ideas now that they know they can translate them easily into physical objects,” said Howard. “The new prototyping and tech-transfer capabilities made possible by protostudios is going to be a real game changer.”

Reed said protostudios fills a critical gap in Iowa’s innovation ecosystem by providing the equipment and expertise needed to produce very small, high-resolution, biocompatible medical and electronic device prototypes, from cochlear, dental and orthopedic implants, to stents and surgical tools, to prosthetics, flexible hybrid electronics, and wearables.

“The first-class 3D-printers at protostudios can print flexible and hard plastics, metals and ceramics,” said protostudios 3D Design Prototyping Director Chuck Romans. “We are also equipped with milling equipment, a laser/water jet cutter, and printed circuit board fabrication. If you dream it, we can help you build it.” 

The grand opening also celebrates the launch of the Translational Research Incubator (TRI), a wet-lab space in the Medical Laboratories building on the University of Iowa campus. A complement to the UI Research Park, TRI houses four research-based biomedical or life science startup companies focused on commercializing technology developed at the University of Iowa.

The TRI space is already filled to capacity with four UI-based startup companies who have 12 months to assess their intellectual property, develop proofs of concept and, with the assistance of UI Ventures and the UI Research Foundation, decide whether and how to forge ahead with taking the next steps in launching a new company.

UI Ventures, part of the University of Iowa Office of the Vice President for Research and Economic Development (OVPR&ED), offers information and resources to help companies find funding they qualify for, including federal grants, state funding, the UI commercialization GAP fund, loans, angel investment, and venture capital For more information, visit

The UI Research Foundation is part of the Office of the Vice President for Research and Economic Development, which provides resources and support to researchers and scholars at the University of Iowa and to businesses across Iowa with the goal of forging new frontiers of discovery and innovation and promoting a culture of creativity that benefits the campus, the state, and the world. More at, and on Twitter: @DaretoDiscover.