The Columbus Collaboratory is an innovative outgrowth of the Columbus Partnership.

Collaboration is often called "the Columbus Way." Seven of the city's largest organizations take Columbus' signature trait to new heights and even claim it in the name of their joint venture.

The Columbus Collaboratory is taking shape in brightly renovated space at Battelle, where seven new graduates in information technology will soon begin working and then head off to rotating cyber security assignments at the seven member companies.

American Electric Power, Battelle, Cardinal Health, Huntington Bank, L Brands, Nationwide and OhioHealth are in diverse industries-and that's the point of their unique alliance. Because they are not competing with each other, they are willing to work together on common issues regarding the exploding field of big data, notes Matt Wald, who was hired at the end of March as the Collaboratory's CEO.

And it undoubtedly helps that most of the CEOs of the Collaboratory members have been working together on the Columbus Partnership since its earliest days.

Just as the companies' CEOs have developed deep relationships through the Columbus Partnership, their IT staffs are building connections through the Collaboratory.

When Wald started, he says he "asked a couple of folks in the security area, 'Did you know these folks before?' Some of them said, 'No, I'd never met them before.' And I think we would find that same kind of thing on the data analytics side as well. So (we're) creating an environment where they can come get outside of their day job, meet their peers, and really start to brainstorm about how they could do things differently. But that's not really where it ends. That's where it begins."

Wald adds, "We don't want this to be the only space where collaboration occurs. This is the beginning of where collaboration occurs. "

The three missions of the Collaboratory are to return value to members, help Columbus become a magnet for a highly skilled IT workforce and to accelerate technology innovation.

"This is not a think tank or a research institute. This is a for-profit business whose principle aim is to return value to the members," Wald says. "We are not selling to the external marketplace today," he emphasizes.

Discussions leading to the creation of the Collaboratory were underway for several years, says Brad Ashbrook, interim CEO of the advanced technology company from its creation in early 2014 until Wald was hired. Ashbrook remains as the Collaboratory's CFO.

The three work streams he set up for the Collaboratory are in data analytics, cyber security, and talent attraction and workforce development. Early work included doing a skills gap analysis for the talent needed by the member companies.

"The Collaboratory is a safe environment and that safety also provides the ability to help tease out what their issues are," Ashbrook says.

"In the cyber security area, they're all focusing on common enemies," Wald notes, with insiders being the greater threat. As vendors offer ever-growing but fragmented cyber security technology, the Collaboratory allows members to share and develop best practices for holistic solutions.

The seven companies are each committing $1 million a year for four years to fund the Collaboratory, with another $5 million Third Frontier grant from the state, but that investment is just a fraction of the more than $500 million a year that they collectively spend on technology, Wald says.

The seven IT graduates starting in June are making two-year commitments to work for the Collaboratory, and then will be available to be hired by member companies with demonstrated and highly sought skills the seven members all need, Ashbrook says. Giving the new grads their own mentors and deep relationships with each other may also help to keep them in Columbus after their two-year stints, he adds.

Ashbrook says people across the country think the creation of the Collaboratory "is a really great idea that's not been done before." And results are already being felt, such as one member being able to help another that was struggling to implement a new data program, he says.

"When I was interviewing for the job, I couldn't find any analogue for it anywhere in the country," Wald says. And now that the Collaboratory exists in Columbus, other cities are watching, he adds.