Wednesday, Jan. 29, 2014
Universities are the main drivers of innovation around the world. And Virginia Commonwealth University is taking that role to a new level.
Whether it’s devising a new bandage that stops bleeding on contact, developing an interactive three-dimensional color model, inventing a robotic skateboard that helps children with disabilities or finding a new treatment for sickle cell disease and then licensing the drug to a startup company, VCU is producing high-impact, collaborative discoveries through its research enterprise.
VCU Innovation Gateway, formerly known as VCU Tech Transfer, supports faculty, students and staff who are doing cutting-edge research. It has expanded its mission and activities to include building and fostering an innovation ecosystem that helps to create jobs for the Richmond region through collaborative partnerships with business.
“In the past, Tech Transfer had two main functions: supporting the research infrastructure by executing research-related agreements and facilitating commercialization of research through licensing. However, our efforts were focused on transactions and not on building relationships,” said Ivelina Metcheva, Ph.D., executive director of Innovation Gateway. “As we continue to support this infrastructure, Innovation Gateway has expanded from these two primary functions and will now also focus on building strategic industry collaborations and regional partnerships, economic development and entrepreneurship.”
Broadening its mission during the past two years, Tech Transfer evolved into Innovation Gateway as part of VCU’s strategic vision.
“Advancing the discovery of new knowledge, creative expression and innovation is a university-level initiative within VCU’s Quest for Distinction, our university’s strategic plan,” said VCU President Michael Rao, Ph.D. “We’re well on our way to achieving our goal of attaining preeminence as an urban, public research university by making contributions in research, scholarship, creative expression and clinical practice to advance the quality of life. VCU Innovation Gateway will play an important role in realizing this goal.”
Culture of entrepreneurship
Setting its sights on enhancing the culture of entrepreneurship at VCU, Innovation Gateway teamed with VCU da Vinci Center to develop and launch VCU Venture Creation University, dubbed VCU Squared.
This universitywide initiative promotes entrepreneurship by continuously evaluating VCU’s entrepreneurial environment, developing new programs and coordinating related activities throughout the university.
According to Nicole Colomb, enterprise and economic development executive with Innovation Gateway, the entrepreneurial spirit is already coursing through the minds of many VCU students and faculty.
“Through a recent survey, we found that more than 50 percent of VCU students are interested in starting their own business,” Colomb said. “And with exciting initiatives such as VCU Squared, we’ll be able to support new and evolving innovation and entrepreneurship programs around the university.”
Another important goal of VCU Squared is to collaborate with external partners to understand the regional environment so that VCU and the local business communities can leverage available resources and expertise.
The collaboration between Innovation Gateway and the VCU da Vinci Center led to the formation of a universitywide innovation and entrepreneurship steering committee. This interdisciplinary group includes representatives from across the university with the task of outlining short-term and long-term initiatives aimed at advancing VCU’s culture of innovation and entrepreneurship.
Under the Innovation Gateway’s broader mission, VCU is expanding collaborations with local and prospective companies not only to build external support for our researchers and students but to also promote regional economic development.
Innovation Gateway has attracted an impressive group of industry experts, early-stage investors, serial entrepreneurs and key members of the regional accelerators to form an external commercialization advisory panel.
“The panel meets quarterly and helps us evaluate technologies and commercialization strategies,” Metcheva said. “These meetings provide a forum to showcase VCU’s areas of research excellence and to create opportunity for local industry collaborations and starting new ventures.”
Innovation Gateway also works with regional economic development partners to ensure there’s an easy-to-use “front door” into VCU.
“This front door allows our partners to access important information on our capabilities and expertise, which could be leveraged by prospective or local businesses,” Metcheva said.
By assisting regional economic development organizations in the attraction/retention process, VCU can tell its own story and identify points of potential collaboration across the broader university.
* Resulting collaborations can include sponsored research, internships, student projects, utilization of faculty expertise or core facilities, etc.
* Industry-sponsored research is increasingly important with diminishing federal funding.
* Industry-sponsored research also helps to ensure research is focused on applications that have relevance in the marketplace.
* Prospective and expanding businesses create new jobs for our students/alumni and can contribute to culture changes in the region.
VCU is committed to supporting the growth of the Richmond area’s innovative and entrepreneurial ecosystem. With more than 31,000 students and nearly $250 million in funded research, VCU represents an important catalyst for that ecosystem’s growth.
“We need to encourage this type of activity and support our entrepreneurial students and faculty,” Metcheva said. “While not all ideas will lead to company formation, learning about new ventures and networking with entrepreneurial people around the region will lead to successful start-ups.”
The VCU Squared strategy is key to doing just that. The programs that Innovation Gateway has rolled out in support of that strategy are focused not only on enhancing the culture of entrepreneurship but also on harnessing the talent of VCU’s students, research community and alumni population.
“We’re growing an entrepreneurial population that will help us commercialize our technologies through new venture creation, thus supporting the economic growth of our region,” Metcheva said. “We’re also searching out industry collaborations and regional partnerships – building relationships – that will foster our growing regional innovation ecosystem.”
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