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Internet Technology Innovation Center

From Roanoke Times
September 9, 1999

Back in 1995, University of Virginia professor Alf Weaver set up an Internet conference group on electronic commerce because so many business owners had requested help with online business issues.

With financial support from the state's Center for Innovative Technology, the conference group evolved into an Internet Technology Innovation Center, which next week stages its first public conference at Virginia Tech.

Virginia Internet Technology Week will address the developments driving e-commerce and offer professional development workshops on a range of topics from Web site creation to online security concerns.

"We're looking for the entrepreneur who wonders whether or not this Internet business is here to stay or is a flash in the pan," Weaver said.

Weaver directs UVa's computer networks laboratory and heads the Internet Commerce Group.

The center draws on expertise from a dozen specialty groups at four universities - UVa, Tech, Christopher Newport and George Mason. Weaver put together the groups and then pitched the idea of a virtual research and development center to the Center for Innovative Technology.

The timing was perfect with Gov. Gilmore's focus on technology, Weaver said. His group got $2 million in October to build a system that could sell research and development services to businesses. Two other centers, one in plasma physics and another in advanced manufacturing, also were funded by CIT.

The Technology Innovation Center opened in January.

Center participants hope that by showing businesses how to improve delivery of electronic services, they can develop partnerships with companies, he said.

Requests from businesses funnel through Weaver, who directs them to the appropriate group. The groups represent more than 100 potential consultants, he said.

For example, an engineering student who needs to do a thesis can be given a real project instead of a made-up one, Weaver said.

The initial consultation is free, Weaver said. If it appears that the center can help a company, the company then can try for a matching R&D grant through CIT to continue the project.

The center operates as a virtual business on the Internet and members use video conferencing, e-mail and the telephone to keep in touch. A governing board meets in person only four times a year, Weaver said.

One of the early center projects has been to develop Startup Central.com, which will bring together resources for information people need to start a business, on everything from risks involved to how to build a board of directors. A prototype Web site has been designed and is being shown to potential investors, Weaver said.

Weaver himself developed software called SurveySuite that makes it possible for a business to do electronic surveys on the Web.

His group also developed a searchable database of high-tech companies in Virginia.

The full-day professional development seminars cost $290 and half-day seminars $145. The program runs Monday through Friday at Tech's Donaldson Brown Hotel and Conference Center. More information is available from the center's web site

Opening day keynote speakers will be Virginia's Secretary of Technology Donald Upson as well as U.S. Reps. and Internet Caucus co-chairs Rick Boucher, D-Abingdon and Bob Goodlatte, R-Roanoke. On Friday, Craig Winn, chairman of Value America, an online superstore based in Charlottesville, will be the featured speaker. Professional development seminars have been scheduled Tuesday through Thursday.


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