CIRI teams with Illinois Business Consulting to boost technology transition impact
When Randall Sandone, executive director of Illinois’ Critical Infrastructure Resilience Institute (CIRI), was charged with bringing two new CIRI technologies to the marketplace, he and other CIRI leaders had the foresight to seek the expertise they needed to do this effectively. Fortunately, the knowledge they required was right around the corner at Illinois Business Consulting (IBC), one of the largest and leading student-run professional consulting programs in the country, housed in the Gies College of Business.
CIRI is a Department of Homeland Security Center of Excellence research organization with a mission to positively impact the security and resilience of critical infrastructure around the nation. One of the ways CIRI accomplishes this mission is by developing tools and technologies and transitioning them to market. When commercializing technology, they aim to make sure the products’ impact in the marketplace is sustainable. However, that requires a focused effort and range of expertise that Sandone realized CIRI did not have as a research organization.“We didn’t have the bandwidth or skill set to do the necessary research in areas such as market and competitive analysis or pricing analysis, but IBC did, and they did a fantastic job,” Sandone said.
IBC is a highly competitive consulting organization comprised of approximately 250 students, ranging from undergraduate freshmen to graduate students from nine colleges at the University. The students are divided into numerous teams that complete more than 25 consulting projects each semester.
“IBC is one of the jewels in the crown of our College,” said Jeffrey Brown, Dean of Gies College of Business. “Through IBC, students from across our campus engage in transformative experiential learning experiences. It is part of our initiative to deliver undergraduate excellence. Giving students the opportunity to tackle real-world business problems and help bring new products to market are essential to fulfilling our education mission.”
IBC Associate Director Eric Swenson accepts project requests from Fortune 100 companies, nonprofits, startups, and a variety of others, in addition to having many repeat clients who seek them out, as CIRI did when looking for support on their technology transfer opportunities.
“As a director, we pick the projects, but the students are driving and owning the projects, “Swenson said. “We have been operating successfully for 22 years and have a great reputation, so that has led to a strong, healthy pipeline of clients coming in.”
CIRI began actively working with IBC in January to create technology transition plans for their Cyber Risk Scoring and Mitigation (CRISM) tool and Cyber Secure Dashboard technology.CRISM
Aswini Velivela, a junior majoring in finance, led the CRISM team, along with Arpita Sakar, the team’s senior manager. CRISM helps companies analyze their hardware and software systems and identifies risk areas in the network’s security. The group of eight undergraduate IBC students were tasked with developing a plan to launch CRISM as a commercialized product. They worked closely with Sandone and CRISM’s developer, Dr. Sachin Shetty at Old Dominion University, to research existing companies in the industry and how those companies have marketed their products, as well as developing points of contact for future potential licensing opportunities for CIRI.
“One of the most interesting things we saw was that CRISM has a special function that provides a score on how secure a system is,” Velivela said. “That’s something that’s not standardized, and a lot of companies don’t have it because they’ve never thought that cybersecurity could be something you could measure before. Cybersecurity is so important, and it’s interesting to see that a lot of companies aren’t thinking of it in this way yet, and that’s where we saw CRISM fitting in and making a big difference.”
Cyber Secure DashboardA second team, led by undergraduate students Bala Chandrasekaran (senior manager) and Kyle Chen (project manager), worked to develop a product launch strategy for CIRI’s Cyber Secure Dashboard technology. The Dashboard provides users with a step-by-step process to implement and correctly comply with the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) SP 800-171 and the NISTIR 8183 Manufacturing Profile cybersecurity controls standards.
The Dashboard team researched several private markets where this tool would be useful, identified a target price point, created an ideal business team for the startup company and identified ways to optimize the Dashboard website.
“The Dashboard business model was pretty well agreed upon and understood from the beginning,” Sandone said. “IBC was able to help us determine the best product launch strategies for the startup to employ at kick off and how to go to market successfully.”
IBC works hard to draw clients from a wide range of industries, as well as students with diverse backgrounds. While this contributes to a higher quality outcome for their clients and a real-life work environment for their students, according to Swenson, it can add extra challenges when working on a technical project, such as cybersecurity technology.
“Every project we do, out of the gate, has problems because the students probably haven’t dealt with that specific technology or industry before, and in this case, it was a bit more challenging,” Swenson said. “Cybersecurity is so specific, and it’s a lot to understand at the beginning. The intensity level was higher on these projects, but this is something that every team has to deal with. At the end of the day, there’s a lot of transfer because the students are still researching target markets, market size, website optimization, and developing a market strategy for a project, like they do with any other company.”
Due to CIRI’s positive experience with IBC, the Department of Homeland Security is encouraging CIRI to institutionalize the use of IBC for commercializing additional technology, as well as to expand IBC’s services to the other DHS Centers of Excellence (COE).
“Technology transfer is a critical part of CIRI’s mission, as well as the other COEs too,” Sandone said. “Academic research organizations are not necessarily the best at technology transfer and CIRI primarily consists of academic researchers. So, to have a resource, like IBC, providing their expertise is a real force multiplier for us.”