Economic engagement efforts include universities working with public and private sector partners in their states and regions to support economic development through a variety of activities – innovation and entrepreneurship, technology transfer, talent and workforce development, and community development.
“Public research universities have a core mission to advance economic development in their regions. That responsibility takes various forms – whether through workforce development, research, or private sector partnerships – and all are critically important to creating a thriving economy,” said APLU President Peter McPherson. “This year’s finalists for the Innovation and Economic Prosperity University Awards have not just made a concerted effort to drive economic progress in their regions; they have designed programs that have delivered broad-based prosperity. APLU applauds this year’s finalists and we look forward to spotlighting their exceptional efforts so other public research universities can draw lessons from their success.”
APLU’s Commission on Innovation, Competitiveness, and Economic Prosperity (CICEP), which brings together public university leaders focused on economic engagement issues, designed and implements the IEP Awards program. CICEP is leading efforts to help public research universities plan, assess, and communicate their work in local and regional economic development using the CICEP “Economic Engagement Framework.” The framework includes tools for university self-assessment, metrics determination, and economic impact analysis.
To be eligible for an award, an institution must first earn the Innovation and Economic Prosperity University designation from APLU. To receive that designation universities conduct a rigorous self-study of their economic engagement efforts that includes input from external stakeholders. As part of the self-study, each institution identified areas for growth and improvement within its economic engagement enterprise and developed an improvement plan. This work demonstrated a commitment to continuous learning and improvement in this kind of engagement vital to universities and their regional partners.
The IEP University Awards recognize specific emphases in the following areas. The “Talent” award (finalist: Iowa State University) honors an institution with exemplary initiatives in education and workforce development; the “Innovation” award (finalists: Kansas State University and Penn State University) honors an institution demonstrating outstanding work in technology transfer, entrepreneurship, and business development; the “Place” award (finalists: University of Maryland and Georgia Institute of Technology) recognizes a university that is excelling in community, social, and cultural development work; and the “Connections” category (all five finalists are eligible for this award) recognizes the institution that is doing the most to build connections across all categories of economic engagement — innovation and entrepreneurship, talent development, and social, community, and cultural development.
“APLU’s Commission on Innovation, Competitiveness, and Economic Prosperity works closely with universities to further develop and advance their economic engagement activities to help ensure they have the deepest impact,” said Jim Woodell, APLU Vice President for Economic Development and Community Engagement. “That’s why we developed the CICEP Economic Engagement Framework, which provides tools for universities to identify both institutional accomplishments in innovation and economic development, and also areas for growth and improvement. Using one or more of the tools as part of their self-study, universities assess where they are and where they and their regions are headed.”
Applications for the designations were scored by a panel of independent reviewers representing other universities and also national partners. Scoring was based on a range of criteria emphasizing universities’ development of their economic engagement enterprise, their planning efforts around economic engagement, strategic communications around these efforts, and participation in encouraging economic engagement among peer institutions. Over 55 institutions have been named IEP Universities designees since the program was launched in 2012.
This year’s IEP Award finalists have undertaken a variety of economic engagement efforts, some of which are highlighted below.
Georgia Institute of Technology launched its Technology Square in Atlanta’s Midtown neighborhood to create a hub for innovation. The Tech Square is anchored by the Enterprise Innovation Institute, the university’s chief economic development and business-outreach arm. The Tech Square also boasts Georgia Tech’s Advanced Technology Development Center, which has graduated more than 170 companies that have generated over $12 billion in revenue in Georgia. VentureLab, the university’s commercialization program, also helps students, faculty, and staff develop startups from the Tech Square. To date, VentureLab-supported firms have attracted more than $1.5 billion in capital. About 20 corporations, including several Fortune 500 companies, have also opened corporate innovation centers in around the Tech Square.
Iowa State University has established an ecosystem to incubate startups and advise existing firms, focusing on talent and business development. Last year, the university launched the Pappajohn Center for Entrepreneurship to provide a 10-week summer accelerator program for students. Students pitch business plans, participate in educational sessions, and receive mentoring as they launch businesses. Iowa State’s CyBiz Lab provides interdisciplinary consulting to companies and faculty commercialization efforts, providing students hands-on experience while supporting local businesses. Iowa State also contributes to the state’s talent development through learning and skills development programs for students before they enter college. The university runs the North Central STEM Hub, one of six regional hubs of the Iowa Governor’s STEM Initiative, to spark student interest in the STEM disciplines.
Kansas State University has worked through its Knowledge Based Economic Development partnership to partner with civic and private sector organizations to attract knowledge-based companies to the region, creating hundreds of jobs since it was founded in 2008. The Center for the Advancement of Entrepreneurship provides mentorship, support, and funding to entrepreneurs. In the last academic year, the center awarded over $256,000 in grants to entrepreneurs. Finally, the K-State Institute for Commercialization facilitates technology transfer, strategic partnerships with industry, as well as research and development collaborations. The institute facilitates an average of 350 unique faculty interactions each year. Over the past five years, those interactions have led to nearly $15 million in corporate-generated cash royalties, funded research, and company equity.
Pennsylvania State University centralized all economic development projects under its Invent Penn State Initiative in 2015. The initiative blends entrepreneurship-focused academic programs, startup training and incubation, funding for commercialization, and university-community partnerships to drive broad-based prosperity in the region. For the 2015 to 2016 school year, the Invent Penn State Initiative led to 91 patents, 18 startups formations, 50 technologies funded for commercialization, and a 20 percent increase in industry partnerships. The initiative also funded 17 innovation hubs in communities across Pennsylvania, supporting 100 startups and more than 1,000 entrepreneurs.
University of Maryland President Wallace Loh launched a university-wide effort five years ago to deepen the institution’s engagement with the College Park and Prince George’s County communities. Partnering with College Park, Maryland launched the University District Vision 2020 to spur economic development throughout the city. The university has created a Discovery District that will boast technology incubator space, a community Arts House, a new school, and clinical outreach by the School of Public Health. The Discovery District also features facilities that host developing commercialization research clusters in cybersecurity, bioengineering, energy, and advanced manufacturing. Linking campus and College Park to a set of 10 economically diverse cities is a new light rail system.
Institutions interested in being considered for next year’s APLU Innovation and Economic Prosperity University designation and awards process, should contact Jim Woodell, APLU’s Vice President for Economic Development and Community Engagement.