A photo of the student commons during dusk
VCU is now one of 80 “Innovation & Economic Prosperity” universities, the APLU announced Sunday at its annual conference. (University Marketing)

APLU recognizes VCU for commitment to innovative economic growth

Designation demonstrates VCU’s institution-wide commitment to regional economic engagement.

Share this story

Virginia Commonwealth University’s efforts in support of economic engagement through innovation and entrepreneurship, technology transfer, talent and workforce development and community development earned it a special innovation designation from the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities.

VCU is now one of 80 “Innovation & Economic Prosperity” universities, the APLU announced Sunday at its annual conference. Earlier this fall, U.S. News & World Report named VCU among the top 30 innovative public universities in the country.

“As a national public research university and health system, VCU has a tremendous economic and social impact on Richmond and the commonwealth of Virginia, generating billions of dollars in the economy and creating thousands of jobs,” said Michael Rao, Ph.D., president of VCU and VCU Health. “We are a vital part of the economy of Virginia and the nation; our research seeks ways to help our communities thrive. We’re grateful to the national Association of Public and Land-grant Universities for granting VCU this IEP designation to recognize the impact and commitment of our team to strengthening our engagement and even broader impact in future years.”

“Economic development is a major pillar of universities’ work,” said APLU President Mark Becker. “From talent development to pathbreaking research to entrepreneurship and beyond, institutions have a central role to play in economic development. We’re pleased to recognize VCU for its commitment to engaging its community around these issues to advance regional economic development.”

VCU received the designation after an independent panel reviewed the school’s application, led by Innovation Gateway and the Office of Institutional Equity, Effectiveness and Success. The application included an internal review and analysis of its economic engagement activities, conducted with outside stakeholder input.

“These insights will help us take a second look at our growth plans to ensure we are being smart about our development and curating a research portfolio that will impact the people and places of our surrounding communities,” said Ivelina Metcheva, Ph.D., assistant vice president for innovation at VCU Innovation Gateway, the university’s tech-transfer, commercialization and venture-support office.

A man and a woman sitting next to each other holding an award plaque
Aashir Nasim, Ph.D., vice president and vice provost for institutional equity, effectiveness and success, and Ivelina Metcheva, Ph.D., assistant vice president for innovation at VCU Innovation Gateway, with the APLU's recognition of VCU as an “Innovation & Economic Prosperity” university. (Contributed photo)

Institutions with IEP designation report significant advancement of their efforts due to the stakeholder engagement and self-study efforts undertaken in conjunction with the program. They leverage this designation to identify new areas of opportunity in aligning with economic development objectives. Those schools develop deeper engagement with others in their regional innovation ecosystems, making changes within the institution to expand their impact, the APLU noted.

“The IEP process gave us the opportunity to come together as a university to undergo a rigorous self-study process on what we did well and how we can improve,” said Shari Garmise, Ph.D., executive director for collective urban and regional impact at VCU. “This was highly needed in the pandemic’s early years and supported our strategic recalibration process. We are thrilled to have our economic and community engagement work recognized.”

VCU identified three areas of institutional strength in economic engagement (talent, place and innovation) and described programs in these areas. Officials also identified areas for growth and improvement for the university’s economic engagement enterprise and developed an improvement plan for communication, equitable economic development and community engagement processes.

Among the many examples of VCU’s diverse economic engagement noted in the application were the success of:

  • VCU’s iCubed, which supports eight interdisciplinary core programs (e.g. oral health, urban education and family) that bring together researchers, community members and students to solve challenging and persistent problems in urban communities.
  • Innovation Gateway’s VCU Commercialization Fund, a proof-of-concept fund to advance early-stage university inventions to a more mature stage and improve their chances of being out-licensed. Since its inception, the Commercialization Fund supported 64 projects with nearly $2 million, generating 10 start-ups, close to $20 million in follow-on funding, 15 executed licenses and another 10 in progress.
  • A COVID Innovation Hub Center and the coalition built to address pharmaceutical supply chain issues.
  • The C. Kenneth and Dianne Wright Center, the first translational research center in Virginia.
  • Massey’s Cancer Center’s Facts and Faith Fridays, a partnership between the cancer center and the African American faith community to improve lives through dialogue on key health issues.

APLU is a research, policy and advocacy organization dedicated to strengthening and advancing the work of public universities in the U.S., Canada and Mexico.