Colleges must turn research into jobs

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Colleges must turn research into jobs

By the numbers

In fiscal year 2011, universities in Ohio...

Created 34 start-up businesses

Registered 197 new technology licenses

Filed 592 new application for U.S. patents

Processed 984 invention disclosures

Generated $40.9 million in license income 

Learn more in person

Public forums about “The Condition of Higher Education in Ohio: Advancing Ohio’s Innovation Economy”:

10:30 to 11:30 a.m. Aug. 27 at Ohio State University

10:30 to 11:30 a.m. Aug. 28 at Wright State University

More info.: www.ohiohighered.org/commercialization/public-forums

Ohio’s universities are taking steps to help the state’s economy get “back on its feet” by turning more of the $2 billion they do in research every year into new money-making technologies, products and services — and more jobs for Ohioans.

Ohio needs more businesses and start-up companies to partner with universities to help turn their inventions and classroom projects into  ventures to bolster the state’s economy, according to the Ohio Board of Regents. Ohio  lags behind other states in technology commercialization.

“Innovation is going to bring the higher-paying jobs,” said regent member Vinod Gupta, who led the regents’ task force that produced the “Advancing Ohio’s Innovation Economy” report in June. He added Ohio needs more jobs with $50,000 salaries and higher, not Ohio’s $7.70 minimum wage, which would result in annual pay of $16,016 for a full-time worker.

Local universities are already paving the way with products that are on track to be sold, including a SMART (Status and Motion-Activated Radiofrequency Tag) sensor developed by the University of Dayton Research Institute. American Thermal Instruments expects to begin producing and selling the sensor — that can track temperatures on various products — from its Moraine plant in the next year.

Wright State University plans to show its researchers how they can turn their discoveries into for-profit businesses, Miami University is searching for its first full-time director of technology transfer and business partnerships, and Ohio State University and the Cleveland Clinic have formed a new partnership to bring medical devices to market.

The board of regents also asked its 37-member system to align curriculum to support the needs of businesses, provide more internships and  cooperation opportunities for students and review the tenure process to recognize efforts by faculty members to commercialize research. The state hopes those steps will leverage the work of its universities, which rank sixth nationally in total research funding.

“We have had very good support from all parts of the state,” said Gupta, who is forming a plan to implement some of the task force’s recommendations.
 He and Ohio Chancellor Jim Petro will tour the state to introduce the report. They will visit Wright State on Aug. 28.

“I would like for everybody to be a little patient. It’s a lot of work to do,” Gupta said. “We have the energy. We are passionate about it, and we will get the job done.”

The University of Dayton Research Institute is already in line with  many of the state’s wishes, said Mathew Willenbrink, director of technology partnerships. Although the board of regents does not coordinate Ohio’s private institutions such as UD, the university does expect to be  affected by the report as Ohio ties more research  money to projects that can be commercialized.

“The reason people are paying UDRI to do research is because they feel there is a product behind it,” he said. “People want to see the tangible economic connection between funding science and Ohio jobs.”

From classroom to market

Among the 420 people working at UDRI, research chemist Robert Kauffman said he has brought more than $1 million to the university through his inventions dealing with fuels, lubricants and refrigerants. His SMART sensor was licensed to American Thermal Instruments last year.

Miami University has an agreement with a start-up company, PharynMed, to sell a device being developed by faculty members that goes on the hand like a glove and uses acupressure to suppress the gag reflex. It could be used by dentists or for speech therapy for children who struggle with speaking because of a severe reflex.

Miami hopes to create more mutually beneficial partnerships with businesses, said James Oris, dean of Miami University’s graduate school.

“We have an obligation to the state and the region to be an economic developer,” Oris said.

Wright State is equipped to collaborate with businesses that could use its expertise in terahertz imaging (visualization of internal structures), neuroscience research, biomedical engineering and computer science, said Reid Smith, WSU’s director of the Office of Technology Transfer & Development.

“Although the weak economic environment has had a measurable impact on licensing activity nationwide by academic institutions, we’ve seen a significant uptick in the volume of inventions disclosed by faculty during this most recent fiscal year,” Reid said.

The Wright State Research Institute is promoting a variety of options for university faculty, including creating spin-off, for-profit companies in which the university and the inventor each have an equity stake, said director Ryan Fendley.

Universities say research funding is already tied to projects that will quickly result in new inventions, including money from Ohio Third Frontier. The regents’ report aligns with the goals of Ohio Third Frontier, which aims to award research money for projects that can be commercialized “so we can take full economic advantage of the research,” said Norm Chagnon, deputy chief in the Ohio Office of Technology Investments.

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