Without WKU’s Center for Research and Development, Hitcents, a business started by former WKU students Chris and Clinton Mills, might never have been so successful.
The twin brothers, along with father Ed Mills, started the company to “figure out a way to deliver online advertising in a more efficient way and in real time,” Ed Mills said.
Hitcents has won many awards and titles, such as ranking No. 191 in Inc.’s list of 500 fastest-growing companies in the U.S. for 2007.
The Mills’ business is just one located inside the center, which gained a new director when Doug Rohrer began on Jan. 3 after decades of work in the Bowling Green and Glasgow business communities.
“I would say a major goal of mine is to better promote the services we offer in the community,” Rohrer said. “A lot of people are unaware.”
The center, located in the old mall on Nashville Road, provides a place for technological research and business start-up for members of the WKU community.
It hosts “labs from several of the different schools on campus that do research that can lead to commercialization,” Rohrer said.
He said they are starting a free competition in March called “Buck$ for Bright Ideas.”
Applicants with ideas for a business answer six questions about that idea, such as who their customers and competitors would be.
The deadline for the application is April 15.
Entrants will gather at a banquet April 28 where five to 10 winners will be announced.
Rohrer said winners will receive thousands of dollars worth of services provided by the center.
“Even the people that don’t win will be able to talk to me,” he said. “We can help them.”
Gordon Baylis, vice president for Research, said the center is a way for the university to support the business community.
“The center is very much our interface for business,” Baylis said. “We’re learning from them and they’re learning from us.”
He said the center conducts applied research “to help our community become more competitive and smarter in the world.”
The center helps both undergraduate and graduate students in their research or business endeavors.
The tenants in the center hire students as interns or permanent employees.
“A lot of the successful small companies out here hire Western graduates almost exclusively,” Baylis said.
The center also helps students who would like to start their own businesses.
For instance, Chris and Clinton Mills started Hitcents when they were 16 years old and attended WKU for two years before beginning full-time at the company.
“If a student has a new idea, we will try to support them in any way we can,” Rohrer said.
Also located in the facility is the WKU Small Business Accelerator and Central Region Innovation and Commercialization Center. Rohrer is the director for both.
The ICC is a “state-sponsored program to identify new high-tech business ideas and commercialize them for the benefit of Kentucky,” Rohrer said.
The state is able to provide these funds because they like economic success.
“My job would be to find some funding for you from the state,” he said.
Rohrer said the ICC is only “loosely affiliated” with WKU.
The WKU Small Business Accelerator provides the office space for community members starting their own businesses, he said.
“We also help out where we can with business development,” Rohrer said.
He said the ICC and WKU Small Business Accelerator sometimes work together within the center.
“We have a unique situation here at Western where we can offer all three of these functions,” Rohrer said.