University's innovation focus paying dividends

Mississippi State officials are reporting significant progress in ongoing efforts to foster entrepreneurship and innovation, form private-sector partnerships, and move more university-developed technology into the marketplace.

That optimistic assessment comes as the White House turned its attention to the vital role major research universities play in the nation's economy during a special event in suburban Washington, D.C., last week where President Barack Obama signed the America Invents Act, legislation expected to streamline the patent process and spur invention.

Fulfilling its mission of teaching, research and service, the land-grant institution's central economic development objective is to strengthen collaborations between the university, economic development organizations and businesses to create high-wage jobs, said David Shaw, Mississippi State's vice president for research and economic development.

"We have the innovation ecosystem in place that is growing MSU's capacity and the state's economy through increasing licensing agreements and building other profitable relationships with both existing industries and university startup companies," Shaw said. "Our research enterprise is creating jobs, enhancing quality of life and providing real world opportunities for our students, who are the next generation of innovators, inventors and leaders."

He said a key addition to that strategy came earlier this year with the merger of the university's Entrepreneurship Center and the Office of Technology Commercialization.

The new Office of Entrepreneurship and Technology Transfer has boosted efficiency and the land-grant institution's ability to capture, protect, manage and accelerate the commercialization of university-owned and student-generated intellectual properties, Shaw noted. The intellectual properties stem from new ideas, inventions, software, and creative works developed through research and other scholarly activities, he explained.

OETT director Gerald Nelson said his office has taken purposeful steps to make innovation and entrepreneurship priorities.

"We have been building that culture with students, faculty and staff for a number of years," he added. "Last spring's merger took us to a new level of cooperation, and provided us with additional resources to nurture entrepreneurs on campus and connect with private sector partners."

In a recent study, the National Research Council found that the primary drivers of future economic growth and job creation are going to come from advances in science and engineering. Mississippi State and other flagship research institutions already are contributing to the coming wave of innovation-based economic expansion via education, research and outreach.

"We are working to provide opportunities for our research to be utilized by business and industry to create jobs and economic opportunities that benefit all of us," said Melvin Ray, MSU associate vice president for economic development.

He pointed to recent successes, including:

--Promotion of student innovation and entrepreneurship through a number of business plan competitions in energy, engineering, biomedical and new venture, along with an iPhone application development class and related competition for the best app. OETT teams have also swept the Mississippi Technology Alliance's New Venture Challenge in the student-led startups division.

--Encouragement of faculty innovation and entrepreneurship with more than $350,000 awarded to startups in the past six years from the Thad Cochran Endowment for Entrepreneurship. Another of the new incentives is the cross-college grant program that awards mini-grants to interdisciplinary research teams. Funded by the Office of Research and Economic Development, the grants are designed to facilitate interaction between faculty and students that have a common research theme.

--Support of institutional technology-transfer functions by adding key marketing, business and financial modeling resources, as well as streamlining the tech transfer process into a "one-stop shop" with consolidation of services in the OETT.

--Support for university-industry collaborations by helping businesses meet the challenges of global competition and current economic conditions. Case in point: The Center for Advanced Vehicular Systems' Extension Office's nationally recognized and award-winning work with manufacturers Navistar in West Point and Hol-Mac in Bay Springs. MSU's Angel Network also provides capital resources and brings together successful alumni entrepreneurs to mentor startup businesses.

--Engagement with regional and local economic development efforts, including a regional partnership with the Tupelo-based CREATE Foundation, University of Mississippi and Mississippi Economic Council's statewide Blueprint Mississippi initiative. In addition, the university works closely with local organizations in their business development and recruitment efforts. Engagement is also enhanced by the local Thad Cochran Research, Technology and Economic Development Park, home to cutting-edge research centers, high-tech corporations and spin-off companies sparked by MSU research.

--Recognition of exemplary economic engagement by rewarding inventors and entrepreneurs for their accomplishments, a critical component in creating a culture of innovation. MSU's offices of University Relations and Office of Agricultural Communications also publicize these achievements to local, state and national audiences.

Jim Laird | University Relations

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