When David Smith attended a meeting of the Optoelectronics Industrial Development Association in Washington, D.C., nearly five years ago, he was surprised to learn no representatives from Rochester-or even any from New York-were included in a group looking to create a National Center for Optical Sciences in St. Louis.
When he asked why not Rochester, Smith was told New York did not work well together and no one outside the state wanted any part of it.
Instead of walking away defeated, Smith was determined to change the perception.
“I walked out of that meeting thinking, ‘There won’t be a National Center for Optics without Rochester,'” Smith says.
Less than five years later, the Rochester region is not only a part of the future of optics, it could be on the forefront of its development, Smith says.
The St. Louis site never materialized, but this year, the Infotonics Technology Center Inc. in Canandaigua opened.
State and local leaders originally sought a site for the Infotonics Center in Monroe County but chose the site in Ontario County because it already had a vacant building that would be cheaper to renovate than build.
The 120,000-square-foot building, a former Xerox Corp. inkjet plant off Route 332, includes clean-room space for microsystems packaging and fabrication.
A New York State Center of Excellence, the Infotonics Center is designed to drive economic growth and create jobs throughout the region. It is a consortium of academic institutions, government and industry, led by Xerox, Eastman Kodak Co. and Corning Inc.
From the beginning, collaboration has followed the Infotonics Center. Corning, Xerox and Kodak each have contributed $15 million, the state has pledged $43 million and federal money earmarked for the facility totals around $26 million.
Smith, 61, who is the former Infotonics Center chairman, has been its CEO since July 1. He replaced Duncan Moore, the Rudolf and Hilda Kingslake professor of optical engineering at University of Rochester, who served as CEO on a part-time basis during the center’s conceptual stage.
Smith retired from Kodak last summer, where he worked for nearly 40 years, starting out developing spy satellites in the 1960s.
The next Thruway
Created to be part of what state leaders call “the technology Thruway of the 21st century,” The Infotonics Center is expected to create spinoff jobs for the region-as many as 5,000 by 2012.
It is a job Smith says he is ready for and excited about.
“When you walk into this building, you are walking into the future,” says Smith, who wants to make Infotonics a national Center of Excellence.
His biggest challenge is finding enough time in each day.
“We have 35 employees here and enough work for 60,” says Smith, who spends a lot of his time planning for the future of the organization. “It’s a very challenging job.”
The center has attracted talent from across the nation, including Massachusetts and California.
Smith, and the rest of the Infotonics Center staff, also is dedicated to getting local talent. They are hoping to create excitement about the field with school-age children. The organization, for example, is holding a science camp this summer at Finger Lakes Community College.
Smith also is passionate when it comes to explaining microsystems, which he describes as “electronics on a chip plus more.”
Microsystems are miniaturized systems that can control electrical, mechanical, optical and fluidic subsystems. For example, an air bag in a car is controlled by microsystems that can detect an impact and release the bag only during an incident.
Through research in microsystems and photonics-a subset of optics that deals with light -the Infotonics Center will churn out marketable inventions, creating thousands of new jobs throughout the Rochester region, Smith says.
The Infotonics Center has an annual operating budget between $10 million and $15 million, which is funded by money from the federal government, donations from companies and those doing business with the center. Money from the state will be used for capital improvement projects, Smith says.
The plan is to have the Infotonics Center self-sufficient by 2008. Since it is a non-profit organization, any extra money generated there would be reinvested, Smith says.
He feels the Infotonics Center has benefits for federal organizations and private companies. Smith and others at the Infotonics Center are working on a value proposition, that, when finished, would relay the same message to interested parties as George Eastman used in the early days of Kodak: “You push the button, we’ll do the rest.”
“At Infotonics, it will be, ‘Share your need in microsystems, and we’ll do the rest,'” Smith says.
The goal is to create a prototype based on a person’s or company’s needs with little out-of-pocket expense to them, while protecting their confidentiality.
“We want to make collaborations easy,” Smith adds.
He also is hoping to change the way university projects are funded at the Infotonics Center and is working on a proposal that would focus on targeted research, instead of universities blindly applying for funds. The proposal would allow universities to build on their own strengths, he says.
The Infotonics Center is cost-effective for businesses, Smith says. There is $40 million worth of equipment on site. There is also room for businesses to grow physically. The center now owns eight of the some 50 acres around the building but plans to own all the land by the end of next year. The land now is owned by the Farash Corp.
The extra space could mean room for some five more buildings, which could house small or startup companies, Smith says.
The technology center already is working with companies on projects. They include Mediphotonics Development Co. LLC, a subsidiary of the New-Jersey based Mediscience Technology Corp., which has signed an agreement to develop jointly the compact photonic explorer, or pill camera, for medical applications. Mediscience is a developer of proprietary molecular cancer detection and physiological monitoring devices.
The pill camera would enable physicians to detect early-state cancer of the auto-digestive tract. Proponents hope the non-invasive device would lead to reduced mortality and health care costs and increase the number of people who could be screened for this type of cancer.
There also could be non-medical benefits from the pill camera that involve sensing biological and chemical species, such as bacteria and pollutants, or for surveillance to determine the safety of compact structures and devices.
The Infotonics Center also is working with Thermal Gradient, a Rochester-based biotechnology startup, to develop a prototype, miniature device that can perform DNA amplification faster and cheaper than current techniques. Current technology requires a unit roughly the size of a microwave oven. The Thermal Gradient device being developed is about the size of a paperclip.
A career Kodaker
Smith began his career in 1965 as an electrical engineer and went on to have several assignments in Kodak’s apparatus division and Kodak Park engineering, with increasing levels of responsibility in design, engineering, technology development, process improvement and systems engineering.
In 1985, he was appointed director of automatic machine systems technology, now known as manufacturing systems technology division, which is a corporate technical resource that develops manufacturing process technology, designs high-performance manufacturing systems and instills the systems in new and existing factories around the world.
In June 1997, Smith was appointed director of production systems engineering and technology organization at Kodak’s research and development organization.
The organization concentrated on process R&D for products, encompassing media converting, packaging and high-volume equipment manufacturing. Smith remained the R&D technical director, advanced production and commercialization technology platform, until he retired.
In May, Smith received the David T. Kearns Award for superior management from the Empire State Advantage Organization. The award is given annually in honor of Kearns, retired chairman and CEO of Xerox. It recognizes those who manage with concern and care for the local environment. Smith joined past recipients, including Robert King, chancellor of the State University of New York and former Monroe County executive; William Allyn, chairman and CEO of Welch Allyn Ventures LLC; and Kearns.
It is no surprise that Smith looks at George Eastman as a role model. A poster of Kodak’s founder hangs in Smith’s office.
“I’m not pretending to be anything close to a George Eastman,” says Smith, noting the economic development Eastman brought to the Rochester region. “With Infotonics, I think we can have some of that economic development here.”
Richard Jarman, director of technology partnerships for Kodak, has worked with Smith since 1993.
“He’s always had this great vision of where technology, manufacturing and, now, infotonics should go,” says Jarman, who also is involved with the Infotonics Center for Kodak. “He gives people a sense of direction and the opportunity to feel part of what’s going on.”
In addition to his leadership skills and experience, Smith has a good handle on collaborative efforts and economic development, Jarman says.
“He’s so much of a patriot,” Jarman says. “He wants to see Infotonics, the Rochester region, New York State and the U.S. be successful in this kind of technological development and ultimately commercialization.”
Steven Bolte, chairman of the Infotonics Center board and a Xerox vice president, says Smith’s passion and experience are what led him to believe Smith was the right person to lead the center.
Bolte, who has known Smith for some five years, first saw his passion when Smith was trying to get Rochester involved in the National Optics Center. Smith was vocal about the conversation he had regarding New York being left out.
“He took it not only as an affront but as a personal challenge,” Bolte says.
Bolte was impressed with Smith’s efforts to get the Rochester region involved.
“I knew this person really had the ability to make a difference and a change,” he says.
Since Smith took the helm, Bolte has been impressed with his ability to focus on university research and businesses that bring their ideas to the center, targeting research at academic institutions that could help business.
Jeffrey Witkop, director of manufacture process engineering at Kodak R&D, says Smith may be the perfect choice to head the Infotonics Center.
“He’s not just looking at what’s always been done. He challenges himself to see if things can be done better,” Witkop says. “He’s strictly about what’s right for the company and its people.”
He describes Smith as an out-of-the-box thinker who is open, frank and honest.
Witkop says some key manufacturing technology projects that came to fruition at Kodak grew out of work done by Smith and his department. They ranged from the company’s recent efforts investigating fuel cell manufacturing to early work on one-time-use camera production technology.
“His vision made things happen,” Witkop says. “In many ways, he’s seen as an icon here.”
Smith is able to see connections that others may not and is knowledgeable in a variety of technological areas, Witkop adds.
A native of Massachusetts, Smith has a master of science degree in electrical engineering from the University of Rochester and a bachelor of science degree in electrical engineering from the University of Massachusetts.
He is a founding member and was chairman of the Infotonics Center from 2002 to 2004. He also is chairman of OIDA. His professional memberships include the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers and the American Society for Quality.
Smith lives in Mendon with his wife, Sandy, and their 8-year-old daughter. They also have three adult children and four grandchildren.
When he’s not working or trying to get his daughter excited about math-a challenge, he says-Smith enjoys bicycling and gardening. The family is selling its cottage on Cape Cod and buying one on Canandaigua Lake.
His biggest professional priority now is infotonics, which he believes is “the right technology at the right place at the right time.
“We are on the leading edge of enormous growth in this technology,” Smith says. “We need this economic development today.”
Jobs are part of the long-term vision at The Infotonics Center, he says, noting many jobs are leaving the region.
“From 1975 to 1990, Silicon Valley added 150,000 new technology jobs,” Smith says. “That wouldn’t be a bad thing for New York State.”
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11/26/04 (C) Rochester Business Journal