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Profiting from strategic alliances

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A great many companies in the specialty fabrics industry are small businesses. Two people, 10 people, 50 people—they can only do so much in a day.

Crosslink, a materials development company based in St. Louis, Mo., is one such small business, with fewer than 30 employees spread across three locations. “What we’re really good at,” says vice president of government relations and operations Don Landy, “is developing specific classes of materials for very specific product applications. As such, being a small company, we can’t afford to have all the needed expertise [to develop new products] in house, nor can we afford all the facilities and equipment we’d need.” So Crosslink has allied itself with two universities to bring new products to market.

One partnership is with Missouri State University in Springfield, whose Jordan Valley Innovation Center (JVIC) is home to several businesses and two university-staffed research centers: the Center for Applied Science and Engineering (CASE), and the Center for Biomedical and Life Sciences (CBLS). In 2008, Crosslink moved into the 4,200-square-foot third floor of the JVIC building; the company subcontracts portions of its contracts to both CASE and CBLS. “It’s a very integral part of our strategy, there’s no question,” Landy says. “It provides Crosslink a much broader bandwidth in terms of expertise, facilities, equipment, and other types of capabilities that we wouldn’t otherwise have if we were on our own.”

The partnership has been fruitful. In a project for the U.S. Army, Crosslink has been developing a self-detoxifying coating for fabrics. Energized by an electronic circuit, the coating generates hydrogen peroxide via a catalytic event. The compound then attacks whatever chemical agents are present. “CBLS helped us with understanding the biological side of some of the agents that we had to deal with, as well as just testing and evaluating the different types of devices that we built,” Landy says. “And then CASE helped us design the electronic circuit that’s used in the system itself.”

For another military contract, Crosslink is currently developing a drug delivery system that can be delivered through bandages. It is intended to promote wound healing and reduce infection. Again, both of the JVIC research labs play a key role. “CBLS is checking the efficacy of the drugs that we’re releasing on cell cultures,” explains Landy. “Crosslink doesn’t have any folks with a biology or medical degree on staff, so we utilize the expertise of the folks at CBLS to bring that to the table. And then CASE is helping us with engineering the electronic circuits that we need in order to effect the release.” More recently, Crosslink forged a similar partnership with The University of Southern Mississippi in Hattiesburg, Miss. The company maintains a presence at the research center known as The Accelerator. Here, too, Crosslink is increasing its skill set exponentially without having to hire a single new employee.

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