May 272014
 
Every serious fisherman has a One That Got Away tale, usually shared with wistful regret and a declaration to get back out there and overcome the loss.  Fishermen are a stubborn lot, rarely letting anything get in between them and the prize.  They will always make the effort.

Fort Worth is surrounded by many nice lakes and as a consequence we have more than our share of committed fish stalkers.  But I’m curious: why wouldn’t that sort of dedication translate to opportunities in technology?

That’s not just a rhetorical question.  As I wrote last time [“Cowboys and Culture“], we can be a laid-back bunch in these parts, exhibiting a skepticism over urgency that would make Show-Me-Staters proud.  And as I promised in that previous article, I will now share the perfect example of one that got away… and maybe shouldn’t have.

In mid 2012 I was alerted to a US federal grant opportunity, one involving 3D printing.  Our military wanted to step up the state of the art, and was seeding the effort with a grant for an advanced manufacturing facility.  There were the common federal grant requirements, such as the stipulation that a nonprofit organization serve as facilitator for any coalition putting together a submission.  The proposed center would serve as a research and development hub to improve and invent additive manufacturing technologies and techniques.  Even more enticing, this would be a pilot, to be followed by a dozen or so national satellites.

As a longtime 3D printing enthusiast I was excited.  Given that Dallas-Fort Worth area is home to advanced manufacturer Texas Instruments and at least two universities (UT Arlington and UT Dallas) with related programs, I saw this opportunity as a perfect fit for us.  And what a great way to showcase our area as a hotbed of developing technologies!

On May 11 I got to working and networking.  I started researching how to fulfill the proposal requirements and contacted every single college in the Dallas/Collin/Denton/Tarrant counties region with a synopsis of the proposal and its benefits.  I dug deep into university website staff lists, making sure I identified the academics and administrators most likely to share my excitement.  I also contacted some relevant corporate and community leaders.  Here’s an example of my message, with some minor parts redacted:

Greetings! I am a former product developer for TI, Stanley, Medtronic and other companies and a current 3D design and printing enthusiast.

I recently became aware of the Wright-Patterson grant proposal for “A Pilot Institute for the National Network for Manufacturing Innovation (NNMI)” (https://www.fbo.gov/index?s=opportunity&mode=form&id=2bbada5cae4ab97438dc3f57fed050d0) and was wondering if [your organization] was pursuing this opportunity.

I believe this presents a huge potential benefit for the DFW area if this lands at a local university. I believe [your organization] is uniquely suited given [your current pursuits].

Anyway I have started pulling together information on my own and will gladly offer my time and talents if [your organization] decides to pursue this and could use some volunteer legwork.

Messages were tailored to the recipient, but this offers the general idea.  And as I said, these went out to a LOT of relevant parties.

There was no interest.

I take that back: one university representative did initially express interest, then failed to respond to further inquiries.  All others ignored or even deleted my solicitation email without bothering to read it.

Words fail.

Any personal devastation at the lack of response is moot.  What matters here is that no institution with the wherewithal to land this opportunity for DFW could be tasked to even consider it.  Two years later, I still have to ask:

Why not?

You can find information here on who ultimately brought home this bacon.  Now, this won’t be the only such venture of its kind.  As noted, there will be other opportunities.  I will personally try to fish them out.

The question remains: are we going to let them get away?

  • Sunil

    Technology is changing a lot of industries very quickly and I think academia is (NOW) slow to respond…I believe small companies/ or small groups of driven individuals can push for these changes more easily. Like the great Henry Ford said “You can’t learn in school what the world is going to do next year.”

    • I can see that, but still: a university in another region went for it and got it. I’m betting there were numerous applications. The point is that NO ONE in THIS area cared to even try.

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