University Research Parks Pay Their Way and More
In addition to having a nearby talent pool, including faculty, researchers and students, as well as advanced research facilities, Deason pointed to the availability of intellectual property for utilization and development.
“Companies that choose to be in a research park have the ability to really leverage those assets,” he said. “They can find new products, new R&D and enhance their product lines. Being physically near makes regular interaction easier.”
The companies who take up residence often find they gain peripheral benefits as well. Deason recalled Dow management reporting that scientists assigned to the park felt like they were on a scientific sabbatical due to the campus environment.
“They had faculty and even student interns challenging basic assumptions and inputs as to where to go with projects,” said Deason.
PARKS SPUR INNOVATION
University-affiliated research parks are filling other roles as well. Deason described an emerging trend where even major companies no longer invest in centralized research. While still doing product development work, they are looking to universities as sources of innovation and talent. What they also find are opportunities for growth through acquisition as workers and managers in mature companies interact with and collaborate with researchers also working with small start-ups. This networking and awareness exchange opens doors for mergers and collaboration, explained Deason.
Creating opportunities for networking, entrepreneurship and innovation among the faculty was central to the University of Wisconsin, Madison, opening University Research Park in 1985, said Greg Hyer, its associate director. Nearly 30 years later, the initial phase of development is nearly complete with all but five of the 220 acres developed. The park encompasses 37 buildings with 1.8 million square feet of space, housing more than 100 companies and 3,600 employees.
“The University Research Park has been a vehicle for commercialization of campus research and has played a role in helping the state shift from agriculture and manufacturing, which were in decline, to new sectors of science and technology,” said Hyer. “If you look at the companies here, a majority has licensed technology from the university. This is research patented by the university that has created employment in the state and is also bringing revenue back to the campus.”
Employment runs the gamut from faculty active as chief science officers to post doctoral researchers who’ve decided to get involved in commercialization of companies rather than traditional teaching and research. Hyer said the park has also had an impact on prospective faculty.