Kentucky Universities Partner with Business

Expanding intellectual capital builds the state’s business base.

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On Wednesday, September 7, 2011 - 11:02

Through on-campus research and development that often is patented and spun out into private-sector businesses, Kentucky’s higher-education institutions are doing their part – and more – to grow the Bluegrass State’s book of business.

Small-business development centers, organizations to promote entrepreneurship and multiple other programs and activities blend town and gown in ways that continue to grow business across many industry sectors.

University Investments, Partnerships

At the University of Kentucky, partnerships with local and state economic development officials, as well as entities such as the Von Allmen Center for Entrepreneurship are front and center when it comes to business outreach, as is the groundbreaking Office for Commercialization & Economic Development, says Len Heller, vice president for commer­cialization and economic development.

Heller also serves as president and CEO of Kentucky Technology Inc., the university’s investment arm for technology-based businesses and startups.

“When this office was created in 2006, the goal was to put together the various economic development efforts that we do, and also to develop an outreach campus as part of this operation,” Heller says. “Now we have a business development unit that helps startup businesses with business plans and models to get them in the right frame of mind.” The intellectual property generated at the university begins the commercialization process out of the office, as well. “We get it patented, license it and start a company around it,” he says.

The office is focusing on Kentucky’s major business assets, such as the equine industry and the pharmaceutical sector, using established businesses as wheelhouses for economic development while newer indus­tries are being spun out from the school or are created within the community.

“We now have 55 early startup companies in Lexington and the Bluegrass area that we’ve helped develop in the last two years, and we’ve gotten $64 million in investments for them,” Heller says. “We believe that by working with the state and our partners, we can recruit a lot of big companies, but now we also believe we can grow our own as well.”

Laser Focus in Louisville, KY

There’s a laser focus on new economic clusters at the University of Louisville, whose three campuses host a wide variety of research and development efforts.

The university also is contributing to the state’s workforce at the highest levels, awarding record numbers of baccalaureate and doctoral degrees, as well as producing seven Fulbright scholars in both 2007 and 2008, says Ellen de Graffenreid, director of the Office of Communications and Marketing at the university’s Health Sciences Center.

“Moving ideas from the mind to the marketplace is a major focus at the University of Louisville,” she says.

In addition to offering one of the nation’s most-generous intellectual property policies to faculty inventors, the university has focused on developing infrastructure to assist in patents, licensing, commercialization and the formation of business enterprises.

Key portions of that infrastructure include the university’s Office of Technology Transfer, which works with researchers to move the university’s intellectual assets into the marketplace while also protecting the data and technology developed on campus.

That effort has led to more than 50 full-time jobs, 114 material transfer agreements and more than $19.7 million in seed and venture capital funding rounds.

“Research is economic development,” says Dr. James R. Ramsey, president of the University of Louisville. “It brings new dollars to the state through research grants with a multiplier effect that we estimate at $2 for every $1 our researchers bring in. Research creates new companies and jobs and improves the quality of life in our community.”