Incubators for Economic Development: The Role of Regional State Colleges and Universities in Driving New, High-Impact Ventures
Janosky, Janine E., Babcock, Renee L., Brentin, Robert P., University Business
UNIVERSITY-BASED Research is responsible for many significant and remarkable discoveries, stimulating breakthrough products and technologies that have improved quality of life and created jobs and new industries. To maximize the results of university-produced research and technology, it is important for higher ed administrators to engage the broad reach of multiple regional state colleges and universities in catalyzing and incubating efforts that will lead to new, high-impact ventures.
State colleges and universities located in urban areas offer an ideal route for discoveries and incubation of new businesses, as there are ample resources. Additionally, when universities are in close geographical proximity and combine resources, their ability to provide a rich, diverse, collaborative network of new business development is enhanced, as evidenced by the University Research Corridor in Michigan.
The combined patent, licensing revenue, and start-up company statistics from the three universities that form the URC--Michigan State, the University of Michigan, and Wayne State University--are impressive. But an urban university is only one of many economic resources within the overall metropolitan area. Thus, the proportionate impact of a university in an urban area compared to other resources impacting economic development should be considered.
Traditionally, critical mass has been viewed as a new business development requirement. But through our globally connected world, what the smaller or geographically isolated university lacks in resources for the implementation phase can be gained or accessed through collaborative relationships with industry or other universities. So the opportunity for economic impact from universities in rural settings is real and viable. Indeed, their impact can be even more profound than that of universities located in an urban setting, as the rural universities may often be the only or one of the only large institutions in the geographic setting.
CHALLENGES FOR SMALLER COMMUNITIES
States face tough economic times. In urban settings there are many incentives for companies to locate and offer jobs. That's not necessarily the case for smaller communities. And while some smaller communities may be home to large universities, there's often a disconnect between the information derived from university-conducted research and the community at large. Researchers may also overlook the possibility of applying their work to affect their local communities positively.
Some might suggest that it's more efficient to address ideas and innovations originating in urban centers in the same way that companies focus resources in serving their top customers. But with technological development, increased competition, and globalization, it is practical and essential to develop goods and services for geographically and economically extended markets.
Chris Anderson, editor-in-chief of Fred magazine and author of the book The Long Tail.. Why the Future of Business Is Selling Less of More (Hyperion, 2006), notes that our culture and economy are increasingly shifting away from a focus on a relatively small number of "hits" (mainstream products and markets) at the head of the demand curve and toward a huge number of niches in the tail. Extrapolating from that premise, the sources for ideas should be as numerous and diverse as the consumption side of the equation. The harvesting and incubation of those ideas requires a distributed expertise network, a role that regional colleges and universities are well suited to address.
Several regional state institutions have successful traction in moving research into the commercial arena. Even with modest research and development budgets, they have succeeded through utilizing a combination of partnerships, incentives, and federal and local funding. BusinessWeek highlighted several examples of smaller universities that have been successful in entrepreneurship initiatives in its October 2007 article "Small Schools' Big Tech Dreams. …