The University of Iowa has increased significantly its already prominent role in helping to strengthen the state’s economy in the past year, Dan Reed, UI vice president for research and economic development, told the Board of Regents, State of Iowa, on Wednesday.
Additionally on Wednesday, regents were informed that the UI saw an increase in the number of undergraduate students enrolled in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields in 2012-13 academic year.
In a presentation, Reed presented a list of economic and entrepreneurial success stories out of the university, including initiatives to make for safer cars, better heart surgery, and improved manufacturing.
“From advanced manufacturing through biotechnology to information technology, competitive advantage accrues to those regions that arm their citizens, institutions, and businesses with state-of-the-art technical skills and information assets, we want to partner with businesses and communities across the state to create these economic advantages,” Reed says.
Reed noted that the university received more than $400 million in research funding last year, with those activities employing more than 6,000 people statewide and leading to more than 100 invention disclosures. He said he’s especially pleased to report that industry funding is up 7 percent in fiscal 2013.
The UI Research Park hosts 33 companies and more than 1,100 employees, and is being expanded to include lots for 14 new businesses and a STEM education cooperative with Kirkwood Community College.
The UI has partnered with Kirkwood and the Grant Wood Area Educational Agency to build a 100,000 square-foot facility at the UI Research Park in Coralville to stimulate interest in STEM fields for pupils from kindergarten through high school. That facility is scheduled to open by fall 2015.
The university also maintains programs that develop new businesses and entrepreneurs by providing incubator space and professional support. The university launched a series of venture schools that helps entrepreneurs manage and develop their businesses, and with Kirkwood, launched boot camps to help provide information technology training. These efforts helped 170 Iowa entrepreneurs, Reed says.
The university also received part of a $70 million grant from the Department of Defense to increase the competitiveness of Iowa’s advanced manufacturers, and the UI Public Policy Center received three grants from Toyota totaling $17.2 million to fund automotive safety research and education.
The university has also provided millions of dollars to start-up companies that commercialize research discoveries made at the university. These come in the form of gap funding, business and technical advice and training, and innovation competitions, such as elevator pitch, business plan, and business model competitions. Among the companies to benefit from these programs:
- Iowa Approach Inc., which has received more than $170,000 from the university and mentoring from UI’s John Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Center (JPEC) to develop a new catheter-based system for irregular heartbeat ablation;
- Iowa Adaptive Technologies, Inc., which received start-up funds, gap funding and other support from other university resources;
- Higher Learning Technologies, which received $118,000 in funding and JPEC mentoring.
Reed says he and other economic development officials from the university spent many hours meeting with local officials around the state and found a hunger for discovery and innovation and a desire for more collaboration with the university. In particular, he says leaders pointed out challenges relating to worker training, talent recruiting and retention, and lack of access to early-state capital as top concerns.
As a result of feedback from those trips, he says his office will open engagement centers around the state to help local leaders with economic development issues and provide business management mentoring for local entrepreneurs. The centers will work with businesses, economic development groups and community colleges to solve tangible and specific economic problems and to address specific skills shortages. Each center will leverage local expertise and existing facilities to target both statewide needs and regional opportunities.
“The commitment of the University of Iowa is that we will be a robust and engaged partner with government and with the private sector to translate research into concrete economic value,” says Reed.
The STEM enrollment numbers, shared during the Board of Regents Education and Student Affairs Committee meeting Wednesday, were discussed along with the Annual Report of Student Retention and Graduation Rates [Related: UI four-year grad rate surpasses 50 percent.]
At the UI, more than 5,000 undergraduates chose so-called STEM fields last year, up 15.9 percent in 2012-13, compared with 2011-12. The rise was especially noteworthy among minority students: African-American student enrollment was up 22.7 percent in academic 2013, Hispanic student STEM enrollment was up 23.7 percent, and Asian-American enrollment was up 7.7 percent.
STEM enrollment for undergraduates who claimed two or more races was up 96.1 percent.