Q&A with CIRAS Project Manager Brian Muff

The original content was generated from The Industry Iowa Podcast, recorded on June 30, 2022.

Brian Muff
Faculty Connections and Contract Research

Q: Can you share your background and how you became involved with Iowa State and CIRAS?

A: I started around 2006 after working as a chemist and obtaining a degree in chemistry from Iowa State University (ISU). After that, I pursued an MBA and worked as a product manager for a medical supply company in Omaha. Seeking a change, I found an opportunity at ISU with the program, then known as IPRT Company Assistance, which is similar to what I do now. They were looking for someone with a technical background who could facilitate communication between faculty and companies, and my dual experience made me a good fit for the role.


Q: Can you provide an overview of the CIRAS Contract Research program, its history, funding, and how it operates?

A: The program has been around since the 80s, previously known as IPRT Company Assistance, and now operates under CIRAS receives funding from the state legislature’s economic development funds, with a portion allocated to CIRAS for funding faculty research projects with Iowa companies. The program supports a variety of projects across multiple departments, ranging from agriculture and animal science to engineering and business. We offer two primary programs: technical assistance, which handles smaller, shorter-term projects, and contract research, which involves more extensive, in-depth research initiatives. We generally provide half the budget for these projects.


Q: What types of projects have you been involved in and what are some of the impacts you’ve seen on Iowa businesses?

A: Our projects span various fields, including food science, engineering, chemistry, and business. For instance, we’ve conducted ingredient testing, recipe formulation, shelf-life studies, and sustainability analysis, among others. The impacts have been significant, with some projects leading to million-dollar impacts for the businesses involved. We also conduct feed studies, product development, and competitive analyses, all contributing to tangible outcomes for the companies we work with.


Q: How do companies typically engage with the program, and what are the general steps involved in project initiation and development?

A: Companies can reach out directly or through a CIRAS Strategic Advisor. Once the initial contact is made, we facilitate discussions between the company and the relevant faculty members to determine mutual interest and scope of the project. The faculty then create a statement of work and budget, which is shared with the company for their input and approval. Upon agreement, we proceed with drafting the necessary proposals and agreements for the project.


Q: Are there any deadlines for project applications, and are there a specific criteria for businesses to qualify for the program?

A: There are no strict deadlines for project applications, but we operate on a fiscal year basis, with funding availability typically from July to June. If a company has a presence in Iowa, they are eligible for our program, regardless of their industry or sector. However, it’s advisable to reach out earlier in the fiscal year to ensure funding availability.


Q: How do you manage confidentiality and intellectual property rights in your project agreements, and what are some of the key aspects covered in these agreements?

A: We have well-defined confidentiality agreements and intellectual property clauses to protect the interests of both the company and the faculty. These agreements cover various aspects, including confidentiality, intellectual property rights, and publication rights. We ensure transparency and understanding of these terms between the parties before proceeding with any project.


Q: How can businesses reach out to you, and what regions do you serve across Iowa?

A: Companies can reach out to me directly at bmuff@iastate.edu, or they can find information on the CIRAS website. I work across Iowa, serving companies in various industries and regions, including manufacturing, Research & Development, and more.


Q: Finally, what would you like Iowa companies to know about the CIRAS contract research program?

A: I would like businesses to know that the CIRAS program is a valuable resource for fostering collaborative research and development projects with ISU faculty. We have diverse expertise and resources to support businesses in achieving their research and development goals. We aim to facilitate meaningful partnerships that lead to tangible impacts for the companies involved. If you have any questions or need further information, please don’t hesitate to contact us.

For more information, contact Brain Muff, bmuff@iastate.edu or 515-520-1033.