Bahai News - CAKI Awards 2000: NineSigma
CAKI Awards 2000: NineSigma
Source: Crains Cleveland Business
Publication date: 2000-11-06
Arrival time: 2000-11-27
NineSigma calls its web site a "portal" to worldwide research and
The company, which started in February, went online in October with an
array of specialized software to broker global talent and information,
an aggressive move that garnered the Beachwood company the most promising
new company award in the Northeast Ohio Software Association's 2000
Cleveland Area Knowledge Industry Awards.
The company's plan is to match an organization's research and development
needs with appropriate suppliers in real time over its web site. NineSigma
users can obtain a full complement of services or can decide which
offerings best suit their needs at www.ninesigma.com.
Mehran Mehregany, an expert in tiny electric motor drives called
microelectromechanical systems, is NineSigma's chairman and chief
executive officer. He also is the George S. Dively professor of
engineering at Case Western Reserve University and hopes to use his
academic background in the business world.
"Corporate America has a limited ability to find the Nest researchers
today," Dr. Mehregany said. "NineSigma will put corporate research and
development in touch with researchers who can accelerate product
development with rapid deployment research."
The idea grew from discussions Dr. Mehregany had with his academic
colleagues. In recent years, they pondered why business-to-business
research was not as free flowing, or as successful, as government
research, he said.
For example, the Department of Health and Human Services, the Defense
Department and the National Science Foundation share their research
and development knowledge. Scientists in those organizations post their
need for research data and trust the government with the information,
knowing it will not commercialize their ideas.
The situation is different in general industry. Businesses do not trust
each other with research. If word gets out about research a company
wants to perform, competitors can jump in and take away the advantage.
There's no infrastructure for industry to share research information
and no channel to define leading-edge, highquality research and
Glenn Brown, who until August was science adviser to Governors Taft and
Voinovich, has viewed research from industry, academia and government.
He previously held posts at CWRU and BP Oil Co.
"How it has worked until now is that when a corporate officer needed
information on a development, he or she would call two or three
friends," Mr. Brown said. "It's a hit or miss operation there is so
much (research data) out there. Now, a visit to a web site connects to
an astounding amount of information."
NineSigma promises to keep such transactions confidential, an important
issue for companies and researchers.
"We want to be the trusted intermediary," Dr. Mehregany said.
When substantial research is to be carried out, program managers at
the company will, for a fee, put together four or five top researchers
to examine a particular research project.
In the 10 months since the company's founding, Dr. Mehregany has
organized a management team with knowledge of how the researchand-
development community operates.
The team includes: Jim Calvert, the company's chief operating officer,
who has experience at IBM, America Online and Genuity; Geoff Baker,
vice president of marketing and business development, who held sales and
marketing posts at Republic Steel and BP and most recently was CWRU
director of corporate development; and Carol Clark, NineSigma's chief
financial officer and a former senior executive with BancBoston.
In addition, Dr. Mehregany has assembled a senior strategic advisory
board that plays an active part in company operations. Several members
helped to create the research-and-development acquisition infrastructure
for the government.
Among them is Mary L. Good, former undersecretary of technology for the
U.S. Department of Commerce and president-elect of the American
Association for the Advancement of Science. Other members are two former
undersecretaries of defense in charge of research and engineering, a
science adviser to former President Bush, and several Carnegie Mellon
University and CWRU professors. Such an impressive assembly no doubt has
helped attract investors to NineSigma. The company is 50% oversubscribed
in its initial investment goals of $3 million. After NineSigma management
made a product pitch to senior executives of University Hospitals of
Cleveland, the hospital invested $2 million in the company.
Farah Walters, University Hospitals' chief executive officer, has "high
hopes" for the hospital's investment.
"I don't think one could have chosen a better company for this (CAKI)
award," Ms. Walters said. "It's one of the most promising and innovative
companies I have learned about. We decided to invest early. The idea is
clever and the market potential is enormous. This is a dot-com that is
head and shoulders above others."
Hospital officials especially liked the idea of using NineSigma software
to keep their researchers informed about what each is doing and more
easily trade information.
One of the company's databases publishes reports of the world's
technology tailored for each user. People who register on the web site
can get a customized list of patents issued, research contracts they can
bid for, articles from professional journals and even news releases and
other materials on the day of a breakthrough announcement.
"It's an enormous time saving to a research engineer who will not have
to go to the library but instead will have all the latest data pop-up on
his or her screen," said Ms. Clark, the CFO. "Such support can
significantly shorten time to market."
A native Iranian, Dr. Mehregany, 38, came to the United States at age 17
because he was a member of the Bahai, a religious minority persecuted
after the revolution there. Last year, he sold a business he started,
Advanced MicroMachines Inc., to its largest customer, B.F. Goodrich Co.
He has taken a year off from Case Western Reserve to work at NineSigma
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