ORONO, Maine — Make no mistake: Doug Hall is a huge fan of both the University of Maine and the state of Maine.
Now based in Cincinnati, Hall was born in Portland and is a third-generation UMaine graduate. He was a commencement speaker in 2008, and his son is a student at the Orono institution.
He’s also one of the most highly sought-after consultants in the world on business innovation. Hall is refocusing some of his business acumen into Maine’s flagship university by signing on for a long-term commitment to UMaine’s Foster Center for Student Innovation, where he taught classes last fall in the relatively new field of innovation engineering. Innovation engineering helps people apply their unique ideas or inventions to the real world.
Hall’s commitment to UMaine was supposed to be for just one semester. But when Hall became “addicted” to the progress his students made during the term, he found those few weeks wouldn’t be enough for him, he said.
The Foster Center recently announced Hall had re-upped for a 10-year commitment, during which time he will work with students, faculty and businesses in an attempt to turn UMaine’s innovation engineering program into the best of its kind in the world.
“This is not something that happens tomorrow, and that’s why we said 10 years, because that’s really what I think it’s going to take to do this,” he said. “It’s not a flash-in-the-pan or an Internet hype thing. This is a 10-year effort to make this a truly world-class program.”
Hall’s primary focus, he said, will be on educating UMaine undergraduate and graduate students, and he said there are about 250 students who have signed up for classes starting in the fall.
He also will work with Maine businesses through his Innovation Engineering Leadership Institutes, the first of which will be held Jan. 27-29, at the Sugarloaf ski resort in Carrabassett Valley, followed by similar institutes in February and March at the Sunday River resort in Bethel and Portland’s Eastland Park Hotel, respectively.
Innovation engineering, Hall said, is similar to areas such as electrical or chemical engineering. Just as electrical or chemical principles are applied in the real world, so are innovations. It’s about coming up with new ideas and rethinking old ways of doing things. It’s about being creative.
What that translates to in the real world, Hall believes, is jobs.
“The slogan [for innovation engineering] is the career accelerator,” said Hall, who was a chemical engineering major at UMaine. “It allows us to take students in education, in business, in biology, in art history and in chemical engineering and directly teach them how to create, communicate and commercialize their wisdom.”
Hall said he saw this happen in his classroom as students explored their creativity, and it led to summer internships for some of his students.
Hall is the founder and CEO of Eureka! Ranch in Ohio, which is billed as an invention and research think tank where large and small companies invent, develop and market new ideas and products. Hall has worked with multinational conglomerates such as Nike, Disney and American Express.
The “two-bit celebrity,” as he calls himself, is a best-selling author and radio host and served in 2006 as a judge on the first season of the ABC television show “American Inventor.”
Hall said his career working with corporate clients, however, had left him feeling a bit hollow. Working with UMaine students has inspired him.
“You get up there in the [UMaine] community, you work with the students and you see the transformation that happens,” Hall said. “The students get it when real learning happens, and you see the ability, in my case very directly, and the quality of the ideas they’re coming up with. And you’re just in awe of the potential they’ve got there.”
Hall hopes UMaine’s invention engineering program eventually will become something for which other universities will pay for access.
Oh, and for those who are wondering, Hall isn’t charging UMaine any money. He said his consulting fees, which can be around $350,000 for three days of work with a client, have set him up well.
“I’m donating everything, my time, my costs of flying, everything, 100 percent,” he said. “The goal here is to do something to make a difference. The University of Maine will be the school where students will learn not only with excellence in their area, but learn how to apply it to the real world. In today’s economy, that rocks. It just rocks.”
For information on the Foster Center for Student Innovation, go to www.umaine.edu/innovation.