Millersville University is embarking on a project that will aid entrepreneurial computer-software businesses and, at the same time, teach students how to create cutting-edge technology.
The endeavor will be funded by a $182,541 University/Business Seed Grant from Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education, awarded to the university in the fall. The money will be used to establish a computer-software "productization" center at MU. Software "productization" refers to the process of turning a rudimentary software concept or early prototype into a marketable product.
This summer, an advisory board will select three businesses or entrepreneurs from the area who have a blueprint for new computer-software products. Then, plans for the software will be developed by university students and staff, a business plan will be created and the software will be marketed to a manufacturer or consumers.
The goals of the center, to be in a computer lab in Roddy Hall, are to:
• Address regional economic and community-development needs.
• Enhance the quality of instruction and learning resources for MU students.
• Link the university to regional business resources.
The center hopes to have piloted three software projects by January 2011.
The endeavor is being led by Stephanie Elzer, an MU computer science professor; Pat McCaskey, director of the school's Small Business Institute; and MU communications professor Theresa Russell-Loretz.
McCaskey said the project is a way to strengthen the local economy.
About 12 MU computer science, business and communications students will be hired to help develop the software.
Elzer said the project is a win-win situation. "This is really an opportunity to see the fruits of your labor," she said. "The end result is that we will make a contribution to someone's personal success, (help) the local economy and help students apply what they've learned to their education. It's a nice combination."
Elzer also said the project is a wonderful opportunity for people in different academic departments to collaborate.
"It's very unique and very special," she said.
Although the three-year grant is funded primarily by PASSHE, the university will contribute $21,159 over the life of the grant, bringing the total to $203,700.
Forty percent of the funding will pay students for their work. The remaining money will be used to buy computers to design and build the software. Faculty and students will work on one software package at a time.
Russell-Loretz's role will be to create an identity for each product. She said the experience will allow her students to broaden the scope of their studies.
"What's really beneficial is that a lot of my students don't get to experience these kind of courses. Many shy away from computer science," Russell-Loretz said. "To be able for them to sit down and work on this will be very helpful."
McCaskey, who will lend his expertise in developing business plans and conducting market analysis, said he hopes the project finds a permanent home at Millersville University.
"The objective is to make this an ongoing operation," McCaskey said. "It's very early on, but we need to look five and six years down the road and see what we can do. We don't want this to go away."
Businesses interested in submitting a proposal should e-mail Stephanie Elzer at Stephanie.Elzer@millersvill....