Magazine article Black Issues in Higher Education

Minority Businesses Collaborate with HBCUs to Develop New Technologies

Magazine article Black Issues in Higher Education

Minority Businesses Collaborate with HBCUs to Develop New Technologies

Article excerpt

When Veatronics Corporation needed engineering expertise to develop a highly advanced fetal monitor last year, it turned to North Carolina A&T State University for help.

"They came to us because we are recognized in the region as a top engineering program," said Dr. John Kelly, Associate Dean of Graduate and Research Programs at North Carolina A&T State University.

As a result of technology research pioneered by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), engineers at Veatronics (a Charlotte-based minority-owned electronics manufacturer) and a professor at North Carolina A&T in Greensboro NC developed a non-invasive fetal heart sensor. Expectant mothers and their unborn infants should appreciate the improvement over the current generation of fetal heart monitors.

Every day, dozens of universities and businesses such as North Carolina A&T and Veatronics, Inc. collaborate with each other to develop new technology. Through a process known as technology transfer, schools are using basic research -- either developed by the school or by another research institution, such as a NASA laboratory -- and developing it into commercially viable technologies in partnership with private companies. It is an arrangement that administrators of minority educational institutions (MEIs) and owners of minority business enterprises (MBEs) are hoping will increase.

"We stand ready to go. It's a win-win situation for the schools and businesses," said Decatur Rogers, Dean of the College of Engineering and Technology at Tennessee State University in Nashville.

For the past three years, a group of high technology businesses comprising the Minority-Owned Business Technology Transfer Consortium (MBTTC) have worked closely with scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy national laboratories and NASA to create new products as well as incorporate innovative technology into their businesses.

Donald Bell, executive director of the MBTTC, says part of the group's mission is finding a way to work with MEIs to enable the schools to become active members in the MBTTC. Five historically Black colleges and universities were among the original group of institutions and businesses invited by the Energy Department to explore technology transfer in 1993.

"MBEs and the minority educational institutions can do a lot for each other. There are very few people who are trying to link the two together. There's tremendous potential here for partnerships," Bell said.

Developing a New Partnership

Since the 1980s, the federal government has been pushing technology transfer programs as a means to boost the economic competitiveness of private industry in the United States. For decades, the federal government pursued innovative research and development efforts largely through national defense, energy, and space programs. Traditionally, large companies had benefitted from technology transfer programs while small and minority-owned businesses often lacked the finances to take advantage of government-sponsored research and development.

Believing that technology transfer activity among American companies and research institutions failed to measure up, the U.S. Congress enacted several pieces of legislation. That was in the 1980s and the intent was to promote the transfer of technology from federal laboratories to the marketplace.

Since then, NASA and the U.S. Department of Energy have acted to boost their roles as leading federal agencies that sponsor technology transfer programs -- many of which target small businesses, particularly MBEs, and MEIs.

"The idea is to use technology that has had its genesis in government and federal projects, and see that it is developed by private industry," Rogers explained.

In 1993, the Energy Department and the Lockheed Martin company in Oak Ridge, TN, invited 15 African-American CEOs and officials from the five HBCUs to visit the Oak Ridge National Laboratory for a briefing and tour of the facility. …

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