University of Vermont Programs Foster Innovation and Economic Development in State
- By Jeffrey R. Wakefield
Forty research universities, including the University of Vermont, today revealed details about how they are working to promote innovation, entrepreneurship and commercialization of research results leading to economic growth and job development in their states.
The announcement, made on behalf of the universities by the Association of American Public and Land-grant Universities and the American Association of Universities, was part of a ceremony at Thomas Jefferson High School in Alexandria, Va., during which President Barack Obama signed the Leahy-Smith American Invents Act (H.R. 1249) into law. Led by Vermont’s own senior U.S. Senator, the new law provides important reforms to the nation’s patent system.
“The signing of the patent reform bill ensures that the land-grant mission of the University of Vermont continues to fulfill the changing needs of our modern economy,” said UVM interim president John Bramley. “Vermonters could not be more proud of Senator Leahy for his leadership on a bill that both invests in national innovation and strengthens the ability of Vermont’s land grant university to support new economic development, entrepreneurship and the commercialization of cutting-edge technologies.”
As Vermont’s land grant institution, UVM plays a leadership role in fostering innovation and economic development in the state. UVM has a significant direct economic impact as an employer of more than 5,500 full and part-time faculty and staff, as an educator of more than 13,000 students, and as a research and innovation enterprise bringing in more than $128 million dollars in sponsored funding each year. A few highlights of the university’s role in fostering innovation and the economy in Vermont include:
The research and scholarly efforts of the faculty, staff and students
A broad range of research and scholarly activities ranging from basic biomedical research to innovation in agriculture are conducted daily on the UVM campus. In addition to significant institutional resources, these efforts are supported by more than $128 million dollars per year of sponsored funding.
The UVM Office of Technology Commercialization
The OTC manages the intellectual property developed by the university’s faculty, staff and students. In the last five years UVM has executed more than thirty-six options and license agreements of its intellectual property. Of these, ten were license agreements with new Vermont-based, start-up companies. Start-ups include Vtrim Online Solutions, an accredited online weight management program founded by Krista Conley Lincoln in Middlebury; Stromatec, a company that is developing diagnostic and therapeutic instrumentation, founded by Robert Davis of Burlington; and Patient Engagement Systems, a company developing clinical management tools founded by Dr. Benjamin Littenberg, a UVM faculty member. Multiple licenses have been executed with other Vermont-based companies including Leader Evaporator, manufacturer of a maple syrup spout adaptor that more than triples the output per tree; Vermont Natural Coatings that manufacturers a whey-based nontoxic wood finish; and Haematologic Technologies, which makes laboratory reagents for the biotechnology industry.
OTC, in collaboration with several partners including the Vermont Center for Emerging Technologies, has offered the annual Invention to Venture forum since 2006, where inventors, venture capitalists, students and faculty share experiences, fostering opportunities to develop strategic relationships. This program has been supported by the Kauffman Foundation and has engaged more than 750 people in the entrepreneurial process since its inception.
UVM Ventures is a technology gap fund designed to support efforts by UVM faculty, staff and students to move their intellectual property along the continuum from idea to commercialization. To date, UVM Ventures has invested in 23 projects that have resulted in nine new companies. Currently these fledgling companies have 25 employees and have had more than $6.5 million dollars invested in them.
Overall, UVM has spun out twelve new companies in the last six years who have employed 41 people and raised more than $20 million in capital. Ten of the 12 companies reside in Vermont.
The Vermont Center for Emerging Technologies
VCET is a statewide incubation program for leading-edge technology firms, with its headquarters co-located on the UVM campus. Select high-opportunity firms are provided with substantive business mentoring, flexible office space, shared resources, venture capital, entrepreneurial workshops and access to VCET’s proprietary network of venture development professionals, investors and economic development partners. VCET has 25 active portfolio companies in Vermont, has facilitated the creation of 179 next generation jobs and has provided opportunities for 28 student interns. Over the last 12 months, more than $16 million has been invested in the portfolio companies. VCET also manages the Vermont Seed Fund that makes early investment in Vermont start-up companies.
The Vermont Technology Council
The Technology Council is an independent organization that works to support the creation and growth of technology enabled companies in Vermont. The council is led by Dr. John Evans, senior adviser to the president of UVM. It brings together representatives from state government, higher education and the private sector to work on key issues designed to spur economic growth. The council is responsible for Vermont’s Science and Technology Plan and serves as the statewide Board for the National Science Foundation-funded Vermont EPSCoR program. In 2011 it facilitated summer work experiences for more than 40 higher education students in Vermont-based technology-enabled companies.
The Senior Experience in Engineering Design (SEED) is a capstone program in the UVM College of Engineering and Mathematical Sciences for seniors, partnering them with businesses to design, build, test, revise and publicly demonstrate a working prototype or solution to an ongoing challenge facing their market. Over the course of two semesters, students meet weekly with a representative of the corporate partner and a UVM professor to complete the project. Students gain extended exposure to the real world of engineering practice, and companies work closely with potential new hires in an environment that draws on the university’s resources and expertise. In 2008, Lisa Ventriss, president of the Vermont Business Roundtable, wrote about SEED, “This is precisely the kind of partnership and collaboration between higher education and the private sector that will help grow Vermont’s economy.”
Strategic business partnerships
MITRE: In July 2010, the not-for-profit, private MITRE Corporation launched its Burlington office, co-located on the UVM campus, in order to work more closely with world-class faculty in the UVM Complex Systems Center and across campus who are critical to MITRE's mission of developing cutting-edge R&D and solutions in service of the national public interest. MITRE is invested in growing its partnership with UVM and developing new opportunities for MITRE throughout Vermont.
IBM: Over the past several years, UVM has developed new connections with IBM global interests in advanced computing, complex systems studies, smart energy research and innovative engineering education. Local relationships with IBM Essex have also led to direct support of UVM’s SEED program, research awards to UVM faculty and the sharing of IBM employee talent in UVM classrooms.
Vermont Electric Utilities and Energy Related Businesses: In July and August 2011, the University of Vermont – in partnership with Sandia National Laboratories, the Vermont Law School, and Norwich University – offered a series of timely short courses on smart grid modernization for Vermont utilities, Vermont energy-technology companies and others tasked with developing Vermont’s first-in-the-nation statewide smart grid system by 2013. Vermont utility and energy business interests made up more than 45 percent of the smart grid short course attendees. Short course topics included renewable energy integration, smart grid policy, and cybersecurity. Of the partnership and leadership of UVM, Mary Powell, CEO of Green Mountain Power, said, “It has been a privilege to partner with the University of Vermont on the tremendous opportunities that lie ahead for our state in the area of smart grid technologies and renewable energy. UVM has been a key strategic partner and its work has enriched the process and opportunities for Vermont.”