UB Works With WNY Firms to Commercialize Defense Technology

By Sue Wuetcher

Release Date: November 19, 1993 This content is archived.


BUFFALO, N.Y. -- The "peace dividend" has provided a unique opportunity for MBA students at the University at Buffalo to gain valuable experience and to help improve the Western New York economy by working with local defense contractors to try to bring the companies' technologies into the broader marketplace.

Seventeen second-year students have been divided into teams to work with senior managers of local defense contractors to try to come up with products or services that will do for those defense technologies what pantyhose did for nylon after World War II.

The students' work to determine if these defense technologies could have commercial applications is made possible by a grant to the UB School of Management from the Western New York Technology Development Center, Inc. The money comes from the Strategic Industries Group Service Program, a state program designed to increase development and innovation in technology-based manufacturing companies.

The end of the "Cold War" has led to cuts in the federal defense budget and a loss of manufacturing, technical, managerial and clerical jobs at defense contractors, says Arun Jain, Samuel P. Capen professor of marketing at UB who is supervising the students. Yet, many of these companies may have technologies that could be adapted to a larger marketplace than that provided by the Department of Defense, he notes.

For example, after World War II, nylon became more profitable for Dupont when it was used to make pantyhose for the consumer market than when it was used for defense purposes, Jain adds.

But adapting these technologies to a broader, more commercial market "will require a totally different way of thinking, and that's where we come in," he says.

The students are encouraged to "be creative" and offer suggestions on how their company's technology might be commercialized. They conduct market research to define the demand for the proposed product, based on the specific needs of the company and the type of industry where the product might be applied.

The possibilities are endless, Jain notes, running the gamut from wireless communication systems used to transport enormous amounts of information to health and safety measures for kennels to climate-control systems to protect paintings in museums.

"These are things, I think, that could make the life of the average consumer better," he says. "These technologies could dramatically increase the profits of the companies, with a direct impact on the employment and tax-revenue base of Western New York, and Buffalo in particular."

In addition, students are gaining "tremendous working experience that is very useful when they enter the job market," he says.

"They are working with senior managers, interfacing with technical people and people who are involved in making major business decisions. They are gaining rich experience, and also are contributing suggestions as to where these technologies might possibly be applied."

For example, imaging technology, which is used in various ways in the defense industry, might be able to serve as the "eyes" of the visually impaired or to give a better view to robots performing precise manufacturing tasks, Jain suggests. In exploring potential markets for these technologies, students are encouraged to be creative.

"They (the students) can see how, by being creative, they can contribute to the profitability and success of the company," he says. "They also can see why creativity is essential if they are to succeed in the business world."

The students will present reports to the defense contractors outlining their opportunities. The companies can pursue any they consider worthwhile.

"Technology is useful only if it can be used by someone," Jain points out. "If it is no longer used by the Department of Defense, what other needs can be satisfied by this technology? I believe that if the Western New York economy is to grow, this is what has to happen. We can't compete with the low-wage, low-tech jobs offered by China and elsewhere," he says.

"We must create high-tech jobs. If we don't create these types of jobs, I don't see how we can maintain our standard of living and revenue base. That's the reality. Other countries do what we do at a much lower cost. We have to switch to jobs that create high value-added products."

Converting defense technology to civilian uses "should enable us to create high-paying jobs that lead to a high revenue base," he adds.