When Len Polizzotto joined Draper Laboratory in Cambridge, Mass., he asked: "What do you need?" Health care scientists asked for more resources and lab space to accelerate their pursuits. The makers of "multichip modules" — complex, miniaturized electronics called nanotechnology — wanted more capacity than Draper's Cambridge facility allowed.
"So I said, like Dudley Do-Right, 'I will find you resources and capacity!' " Polizzotto chuckled in an interview last week. He did both when Draper expanded to Florida and claimed two Tampa Bay facilities: one on the University of South Florida campus in Tampa, the other in a St. Petersburg building complete with a "clean room" it bought for electronics manufacturing. Both facilities are ahead of schedule and celebrate open houses today. Now Polizzotto is stepping back from the day-to-day and is prowling to find Draper's next big opportunity — wherever it may be. Here are highlights of the Polizzotto interview:
Remind our readers, Len: What does Draper Lab do?
We help bridge the gap between research, development and implementation. Universities do great research but not much development. We rely on university research and specialize in development. The gap between research and development is called the "valley of death" because so many things die before reaching the other side. We bridge that gap.
Now that Draper Lab's opened two operations in Tampa Bay, what's your take on Florida?
The Tampa Bay area is outstanding for bioengineering. You have the VA hospital, the medical school, Moffitt Cancer Center. Along with Scripps Research, Burnham Institute and Torrey Pines, Florida is becoming a hotbed for biosciences.
Does it matter that Draper is in Tampa Bay, but Scripps, Burnham and other big biotech players are on the other side of the state?
No. What it tells us is the state has the right attitude on how it goes about economic development and establishes an "innovation economy" and a significant bio presence. It was influential.
So you are showcasing two Draper facilities. What's the one on USF's Tampa campus about?
We built out 10,000 square feet and will double that. We have a staff of 10 including biologists and biochemists, double what we expected at this time, and with USF have 15 project proposals.
What's an example?
Draper has expertise in guidance and balance systems. One proposal with the VA involves designing a belt that could help injured or older people to maintain their balance and help prevent them from falling.
You've bought a building in St. Pete for manufacturing "MCMs," or multichip modules. What's the status there?
We are three months ahead of schedule. We have 13 people on site including electrical and mechanical engineers, twice what we planned at this point. We've moved some Draper people from Cambridge down here to instill the Draper culture, but most hires are local. We have not had any trouble finding the caliber of people here we want to hire. In fact, our Cambridge MCM facility reports to the manager of the MCM in St. Pete.
And what's your overall jobs goal in Florida?
We're aiming for 100 jobs in Tampa in seven years and 65 in St. Petersburg within five years.
What else is Draper up to these days?
We're working with Progress Energy on ways to improve the efficiency of coal-fueled power plants and to build a smart electrical grid that can incorporate renewable energy sources. We've partnered with an Army base in Massachusetts to explore soldier innovations. We're working with Brown University on some things in Rhode Island.
Any final words?
Just to thank the state, counties and cities in Florida that have helped make our start here so easy.
Robert Trigaux can be reached at [email protected]