IU’s First Venture Spin-Outs Merge, Earn Contracts With NASA, NSF

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Bloomington, Ind. — March 5
The world economy may be sputtering, but for Indiana University's first two spin-out companies — WisdomTools and Information in Place — business has taken off, literally.

Fresh on the heels of the acquisition of WisdomTools by its IU Research Park neighbor, Information in Place, the newly reconfigured company has announced projects with NASA and the National Science Foundation aiming to deliver a state-of-the-art, engaging learning experience. Both of the products, NASA's Astronaut: Moon, Mars and Beyond, and NSF's Virtual Astronaut, use space exploration as a jumping off point for young minds into the world of science, math and technology.

Information in Place provides technology-based support solutions, e-learning products and performance enhancement tools for companies and agencies that manage complex information. WisdomTools is an e-learning company. The combined organizations' products and services are used by clients such as Eli Lilly, IBM, AT&T, Blue Cross Blue Shield, the U.S. Army, Northrop Grumman and the National Institutes of Health.

“We are delighted to add WisdomTools' capabilities to our portfolio of learning products and services,” said Sonny Kirkley, Information in Place chief executive officer. “Their technologies, training development processes and top-notch team complement our existing product lines and will enable us to offer a full set of learning solutions for our customers.”

Kirkley and co-founder Chris Borland were full-time researchers in IU's School of Education and biology department, respectively, at the time both companies were formed in 1999. Kirkley currently is an adjunct assistant professor in the IU School of Informatics and co-founded both WisdomTools and Information in Place as spin-outs from IU's Center for Excellence in Education, working with the university's Advanced Research and Technology Institute (now the IU Research and Technology Corp.). He said the acquisition would create new opportunities for both companies.

“Both companies have always had a shared mission to develop learning approaches that increase understanding and retention through the use of immersive and engaging learning tools,” he said. “The synergies created through this acquisition promise exciting opportunities for clients, employees of both companies and the learning community.”

Those opportunities were evidenced most recently when NASA announced it had selected Information in Place as one of three companies that would develop the agency's massively multiplayer online (MMO) learning game Astronaut: Moon, Mars and Beyond.

Taking a cue from the success of the U.S. Defense Department's free online game, America's Army, NASA hopes to offer an MMO where users create their own content — like missions, specialized vehicles and outposts — while applying real-life math, science and technology skills to achieve outcomes. The game is expected to be released later this year.

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