Case Studies

Indiana University Completes Huge Whale Hunt

By May 8, 2009December 29th, 2015No Comments

Indiana University announced yesterday the biggest technology transfer deal in its history: the sale of Angel Learning to Blackboard for $100 million.

This is a great example of what I define as a “whale hunt” that starts out as a collaborative project rather than a sale, per se.  Here’s briefly how it happened.  A professor and student team at IUPUI (Indiana University/Purdue University Indianapolis) developed a technology named OnCourse to enable faculty to provide online courses and other learning experiences.  That system enabled IU to become one of the national leaders in online courses and degree programs.

As part of the university’s technology transfer programs–designed to commercialize promising inventions by university faculty through university/industry collaborations–Angel Learning was founded less than 10 years ago.  It was nurtured in the university’s first incubator in Bloomington, IN, and currently resides at the Emerging Technology Center that houses the Indiana University Research and Technology Corporation in Indianapolis.

Indiana University stands to gain $23 million from the sale, funds that will be reinvested in research and commercial development or promising technologies invented by its faculty.

I was very fortunate to have a role in this story along the way.  In 2001, Bill Plater, who was then Vice Chancellor for Academics and Dean of the Faculties at IUPUI, engaged my company Smith Weaver Smith to guide a faculty team to create a 10-year educational technology plan for the campus.  We involved faculty from many campus departments to participate in collaborative planning sessions, and we invited industry leaders and training coordinators to bring their perspective to the faculty’s ideas.  A major component of the resulting plan was the recommendation to continue investing in the fledgling OnCourse technology to support teaching and learning.

Whale Hunting is sometimes much bigger than a sale or a business development opportunity.  This is community and economic development from the ground up, involving not just one company but a community of educators, business development specialists, industry leaders, end users, and researchers.  It is complex.  It is collaborative.  It requires that people with very different skill sets and perspectives learn how to understand one another and undertake a common goal.  It works when supported by great process and planning and a commitment to long-term investment.

Congratulations to IU and the IUPUI team for getting this right.  This has been a big week for technology in Indiana–Exact Target’s $70 million funding and IU’s $100 million sale!