Chamberlain Champions Science

February 1, 2008
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GRAND RAPIDS — Linda Chamberlain’s interest in science gelled in high school when she discovered that chemistry was “really cool.”

“I had always been curious about how things worked and why they worked that way,” Chamberlain reflected. “Chemistry impacts everything.”

Everything from basic science through application science intrigued Chamberlain, who is now director of the West Michigan Science & Technology Initiative. In her own words, she was a “true geek.”

She graduated from Creston High School and went to Grand Rapids Community College, where her interest in chemistry spiked. Chamberlain went on to earn both a B.S and a Ph.D. in chemistry from Purdue University. In her last year there, she won a postdoctoral fellowship at the University of California at Irvine, where she studied rare earth chemistry.

Name: Linda R. Chamberlain
Organization: West Michigan Science & Technology Initiative
Position: Executive Director
Age: 48
Birthplace: Ann Arbor
Residence: Caledonia
Personal: Married
Community and Business Involvement: Member of the Core Technology Alliance (Michigan) and member of the board for ClinXus, a clinical trial marketing organization.
Biggest Career Break: Being encouraged to pursue a Ph.D. in chemistry.

Chamberlain has been “a student of new product development” for quite some time. Her first job was with Shell Chemical Co., where she started as a research chemist and was later promoted to the position of research manager of chemical research and applications. She signed on with AlliedSignal Inc., (now part of Honeywell) in 1995, where she directed engineering plastic research and technology and was accountable for new products, from idea creation through commercialization.

In 1997, Chamberlain was hired as director of Johnson Controls Inc.’s Advanced Application Research team, which worked on the development and application of new materials and processing technologies. A year later she was elevated to the position of executive director of new product and business development at JCI. She worked briefly as fund development coordinator for Holland Community Hospital Foundation and then had a stint as a technical analyst at Butzel Long law firm. For a couple of years, she served as executive vice president of Sordal Inc., where she was responsible for all business development. During her career as a researcher and scientist, she led the development of 19 patents. 

In 2003, Chamberlain was hired as commercialization director for WMSTI, which was then only six months old. She was attracted to the position, she said, because it gave her the opportunity to work with small businesses at critical junctures in the development of their products. At the same time, she formed her own company, Innovaluation LLC, a consulting firm that works with companies from startups to Fortune 500 companies to align their product development portfolios with business strategy.

She worked for WMSTI for four years before taking over as executive director, and she maintains her role as WMSTI’s commercialization director, as well as her consulting business.

“I’ve had a cornucopia of experience and it serves me in this role, in particular, very well,” Chamberlain said. “I know how to work with all the business and public entities through first-hand experience of being in all those entities. It helps us get things done here.”

As commercialization director, Chamberlain works directly with clients and tenants, laying out commercialization roadmaps and business development plans and promoting the product services that WMSTI has to offer. When an early-stage company comes in to WMSTI, for instance, staff does what’s called “commercialization roadmapping” to help them see what could happen along the journey and to try to anticipate the detours and roadblocks, she explained.

“It’s truly exciting to put new product into the market,” she remarked. “There are many pitfalls and many opportunities, and you don’t want to miss any opportunities along the way. So helping people work through the process, making sure they bring in expertise when they need to and putting that product on the market — there’s nothing more interesting or exciting in a professional sense for me.”

As executive director, Chamberlain determines the strategy and direction of WMSTI’s initiatives and works to increase its involvement in regional outreach activities. She said in the next three to four years, the organization’s strategic direction is going to be toward medical device and medical products.

WMSTI was jointly founded in 2003 by Grand Valley State University, the city of Grand Rapids, the Van Andel Institute, Grand Rapid Community College, The Right Place Inc. and the Michigan Economic Development Corp., with the goal of growing and diversifying the local economy by supporting the commercialization of science and technology. In its four years of existence, WMSTI has assisted more than 70 individual researchers, scientists and startups in commercializing new life sciences products and services.

Last summer, WMSTI formed a business collaborative called the West Michigan Medical Device Consortium, which intends to speed the growth and development of local medical device companies by encouraging their collaboration so they don’t have to go outside of the Michigan supply chain for their needs.

“The medical device consortium came out of what I think is a real need in the area to have our med device companies find a way to network and collaborate,” Chamberlain explained. “It’s also a way to deflect work from being attracted to other regions. It’s hard for any of them to do that independently at the stages that they’re at. But if we start to look at it collectively and drive it as a sort of marketing of the region, as well as their independent businesses, we’ll get a lot more attention.” 

Chamberlain hopes that five years from now the area will have a robust medical device community, and that doctors and companies with new ideas for medical devices will come here for product implementation and product launch. She also hopes that by that time, companies here will be delving into the diagnostic side of the business, and the community will have begun to attract new diagnostic technology to the region or will have translated key technologies, such as new optics technologies.

New products are what motivate Chamberlain. She loves everything from the very early stage of an idea through the process of commercialization.

“I love the process. I love studying the process and best practice and how you get there,” she remarked. “When early-stage companies come in, we help push them along the development pathway. At the end of the day, you have this life sciences product that is for the betterment of mankind. It makes a difference to know that the next diagnostic you’re developing will help someone with cancer.” 

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