BLOOMINGTON, Ind. – 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, to the moon, Mars and beyond.Fresh on the heels of the acquisition of WisdomTools by its IU Research Park neighbor Information in Place, the newly reconfigured company has announced groundbreaking projects with NASA and the National Science Foundation 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 product manager Jennifer Tucker, left, CEO Sonny Kirkley and vice president Jonathan Schalliol discuss progress on the new NASA project “Astronaut: Moon, Mars and Beyond,” a scene from which is pictured in the background. 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 that specializes in using the power of story and other proven instructional techniques in the development of training and educational products. 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 Information in Place Chief Executive Officer Sonny Kirkley. “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 is currently 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. Information in Place employs approximately 40 people in Bloomington, “and basically everyone in the company has one, two or three degrees from IU,” noted Jonathan Schalliol, president of the company. “Part of what we get out of this acquisition is the great people and the story-based computer learning expertise that WisdomTools represents.” Schalliol added that both companies drew needed personnel from a gamut of IU departments and schools, from art, business and computer science, to religious studies, telecommunications and library and information science. “We had to rely on virtually all of IU’s departments to provide the skilled personnel that got us to where we are today,” he said. “IU is representative of what a truly successful liberal arts university is because the strength and diversity in the skill sets we needed were all found here.” Tony Armstrong, president and chief executive officer of IU Research and Technology Corp., and Jeremy Sowders, vice president of Bloomington Economic Development Corp., applauded the acquisition and new product announcements. “They will be great partners,” Armstrong said. “And it’s just amazing to see that these two IU spin-outs have not only succeeded over time, but continue to move on to greater things that will benefit the IU and Bloomington communities.” Sowders agreed and called the successes reflective of that community. “Information in Place’s commitment to growth helps tell our story, a story of a sophisticated community working closely with a world class university to generate economic growth in a 21st century economy,” he said. “Information in Place is a prime example of a Bloomington-based technology company that is going strong despite the current national economic conditions. I think IIPI’s commitment to growth is not only a testament to a great company with strong innovative leadership, but it is also a testament to Bloomington as a thriving and supportive technology community.”
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