Nottingham Spirk and CWRU launch partnership to inspire product development and commercialization

ThinkboxA new partnership between Nottingham Spirk, a global product design and business innovation firm known for creating some of the world’s most popular consumer items, and Case Western Reserve University will engage and inspire the next generation of inventors in new ways.

Nottingham Spirk will create an environment of partnership and innovation on the first level of Case Western Reserve’s seven-story think[ box ] innovation center. The company is also partnering with faculty members to develop high-quality concepts into marketable products faster and to protect those innovations with additional intellectual property.

John Nottingham and John Spirk, founders and co-presidents of the Cleveland-based firm, and leaders of Case School of Engineering announced the partnership Thursday night at the engineering school’s 2015 Engineers Week banquet at the Intercontinental Cleveland.

“Case Western Reserve’s think[ box ] is changing the face of the regional ecosystem, bringing innovation and entrepreneurship not just to campus, but the entire community,” Spirk said. “We don’t want to just watch new product ideas come out of think[ box ], we want to work with students and faculty to help them reach the marketplace more quickly.”

“This is the ideal partnership in that it provides a novel opportunity to connect the talent of our highly innovative and creative faculty and students with the premier business innovation firm in the country,” said engineering Dean Jeffrey L. Duerk, PhD. “This industry-academic partnership, in itself innovative and bold, will provide unique opportunities to accelerate groundbreaking engineering school concepts to the market using Nottingham Spirk design and innovation expertise. We anticipate it will provide significant economic impact to the region and state.”

Nottingham and Spirk, former Cleveland Institute of Art classmates who began their company 43 years ago in a former carriage house on the Case Western Reserve campus, direct a business innovation and product design firm that has been involved in more than 900 commercialized U.S. and international patents.

Nottingham Spirk’s expertise for conceptualizing, designing, market-testing and launching consumer products has generated more then $45 billion in sales for more than 1,400 client partners since its founding, from medical devices and toys to makeup and food. Among them: the Swiffer SweeperVac, the largest-selling floor-care appliance; the top-selling SpinBrush electric toothbrush line; CardioInsight EC Vue, the first noninvasive heart-mapping system (a technology originally developed at Case Western Reserve); and HealthSpot, the first integrated, commercialized telemedicine/medical device system.

think[ box ] is a design and innovation center Case Western Reserve opened in a 4,500-square-foot pilot space in 2012 to inspire students, faculty and staff members, alumni and even members of the public to develop their ideas into products.

The think[ box ] pilot is housed in the lower level of the Glennan Building and provides free access to prototyping and fabrication equipment, such as 3-D printers and laser cutters, as well as collaboration space to create. The lab has drawn more than 80,000 visits and served as the incubator for several student start-ups, such as:

  • Everykey, a wristband that stores login information and unlocks mobile devices automatically, eliminating the need for complicated passwords and cumbersome keys. The company began as a class project.
  • The prototype for an ultra-affordable, human-powered phone charger, which two Case Western Reserve engineering students designed for users in countries lacking infrastructure and those not on the electrical grid.

Through the generosity of several philanthropic organizations and individuals—as well as the State of Ohio—Case Western Reserve last fall began the first phase of a $35 million renovation to create a 50,000-square-foot space in a former cold storage building on campus. The first four floors are scheduled to open this fall.

“The first level,” Nottingham said, “will reflect our long-standing relationship with Case Western Reserve—a connection that dates back to our carriage house days and remains evident in the number of engineering students we employ each year as interns and full-time associates.”

“We always have our eyes on creative talent that comes out of Case Western Reserve,” said Bill Rabbitt, a project manager in Nottingham Spirk’s engineering team, who, himself, earned undergraduate and graduate degrees in mechanical engineering at the university.

The company’s new involvement with think[ box ] and the engineering school further advances that relationship by aligning the expertise of Nottingham Spirk with the university’s expanding culture for inspiring student innovation.

“Through our trademarked Vertical Innovation methodology, we will work with those promising technologies and mentor the students to find the markets that are most appropriate, and move quickly to commercialization,” said Vikki Nowak, Nottingham Spirk’s vice president. “Everyone here is energized to support the student challenges that are being developed with our closest client partners.”