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APLU Names Five Public Universities as Finalists for 2023 Innovation & Economic Prosperity Universities Awards

Washington, DC – The Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU) today named five universities as finalists for its 11th annual Innovation & Economic Prosperity (IEP) University Awards.

The winners will be announced during the association’s annual meeting in November. The finalists – the University of Alabama at Birmingham, Iowa State University, Kansas State University, Virginia Commonwealth University, and Wichita State University – are competing for different awards that recognize exemplary and innovative case studies of economic engagement impact:

  • The IEP Talent Award, recognizing exemplary initiatives in education and workforce development.
  • The IEP Place Award, recognizing exemplary initiatives resulting in social, cultural, or community development.
  • The IEP Innovation Award, recognizing exemplary initiatives spurring innovation, entrepreneurship, and technology-based economic development.

All universities are finalists for the IEP Economic Engagement Connections Award, which is the top-prize in the awards competition, recognizing overall excellence and leveraging across all three award categories.

As defined by APLU’s Economic Engagement Framework – a series of tools and publications that helps institutions better know, measure, and communicate their work in economic engagement – universities collaborate with their public and private sector partners in their states and regions to promote economic growth, competitiveness, and opportunity through a variety of efforts across the categories.

“Congratulations to our 2023 IEP Awards finalists on their outstanding efforts to spur innovation, prepare the next-generation workforce, and foster community development,” said APLU President Mark Becker. “We’re excited to spotlight the exemplary work of our IEP Award finalists in driving innovation and prosperity across their regions.”

To be eligible for an IEP award, an institution must first earn the IEP designation from APLU, which recognizes institutional commitment to regional economic development. To earn the IEP designation, universities conduct a rigorous self-study of their economic engagement activities that includes input from external stakeholders. As part of the self-study, each institution identifies areas for growth and improvement within its economic engagement enterprise and developed an improvement plan. This work demonstrates a commitment to continuous learning and improvement in this kind of engagement vital to universities and their regional partners.

More than 80 institutions have been named IEP Universities designees since the program was launched in 2012.

More information on the finalists’ economic engagement initiatives is below.

University of Alabama at Birmingham
The University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) has focused on cultivating an innovation ecosystem throughout Birmingham. The university has supported the creation of startups, with a particular focus on biotechnology, through a multipronged approach to supporting innovation in life sciences. UAB launched the Bill L. Harbert Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (HIIE) in 2014 to oversee the commercialization of research, foster the creation of startups, and spur economic development. The university’s Entrepreneurial Development Committee, which is comprised of senior university officials, meets regularly to help guide new ventures through potential issues and advance in the startup pipeline. In the past decade, the HIIE has launched more than 30 startups and currently has more than 15 at varying stages in the university start-up formation process. Using revenue generated from HIEE, the university launched the Blazer Bridge Fund to support proof-of-concept technologies with commercial potential. The university is also partnering with a local nonprofit to advance workforce development in the biotechnology sector.

Iowa State University
Iowa State University (Iowa State) has taken a multifaceted approach to facilitating economic development in Iowa. Iowa State’s BioCentury Research Farm convenes students and researchers to build and test new machines that advance global agriculture through advancements in areas such as machine learning, data analysis, and artificial intelligence. Through the university’s Digital Ag Innovation Lab, students and researchers work with corporate partners to address real-world challenges facing their businesses while students gain critical work experience. The Digital Ag Innovation Lab has led to more than 70 patents and technology transfers and over 30 products sold globally. To help further cultivate the entrepreneurial culture across the region, Iowa State created the Venture Mentoring Service (VMS) early last year to provide a team-based mentorship model, matching startup founders with a diverse group of mentors who serve as an early-stage advisory board. VMS provides talent development opportunities for startup founders, many of whom are first-time business owners. The Debbie and Jerry Ivy College of Business Sales Forum is a partnership between academia and industry that prepares students for a career in professional sales. It consists of investor companies who support and participate in the program. The forum has had tremendous success in both recruitment of sales talent for partner companies and student demand.

Kansas State University

Kansas State University (K-State) is working to address the needs of industry and society through a variety of efforts. K-State redefined its commitment to economic engagement through the launch and implementation of a bold Economic Prosperity Plan. This initiative aims to improve the lives of Kansans by leveraging K-State to support job creation and direct economic impact and the university has committed to creating 3,000 new direct jobs and $3 billion in direct investment in the state by 2030. Efforts include the development of the Edge Collaboration District to deepen partnerships between the university and the community and inspire and foster academic-industry ties through colocation focused on research, talent, and commercial innovation. Driven by their Economic Prosperity Plan to leverage institutional partnerships across every county in the state, the university is also building a hub for biosecurity and biodefense in the Animal Health Corridor to drive innovation and collaboration while working to address challenges facing the workforce, including affordable housing. Responding to a state-commissioned study on economic development that identified a lack of affordable housing as an impediment to further economic development, the university in partnership with community organizations helped to design, elevate, and scale innovative approaches to building affordable housing.

Virginia Commonwealth University
Virginia Commonwealth University advances educational and health equity and broad economic prosperity through community and economic engagement. The RTR program, a partnership between VCU and Richmond area school districts, recruits, prepares, supports, and retains teachers for high-need, hard-to-staff schools in critical shortage areas. RTR pairs teacher trainees with mentor teachers in the classroom for one year.  A 2020 evaluation found the RTR-trained teachers are better prepared, better reflect student demographics, have significantly higher retention rates, and their students score higher on English, math and social studies end-of-year tests. VCU’s da Vinci Center for Innovation increases the representation of women and underrepresented minorities in the innovation and the entrepreneurial ecosystem. Da Vinci pairs cross-disciplinary student teams with industry partners to solve real world problems and launched the Entrepreneurship Academy with local partners, awarding 1,830 innovation micro-credentials to 150 low-income, first-generation students, 50 community entrepreneurs, and 204 K12 students. In VCU’s Richmond Health and Wellness Program, multi-disciplinary student teams assess and coordinate health and prevention services for low-income housing residents. More than 1,400 students have served more than 1,450 residents, resulting in improved health outcomes for residents and increased student readiness and interest in collaborative health care.

Wichita State University
Wichita State University’s (WSU) Innovation Campus provides a host of resources supporting talent development, innovation, and entrepreneurship. The Innovation Campus provides access to research facilities, makerspaces and labs, and top-flight centers and institutes at Wichita State for students and non-students alike, providing technology and services that help facilitate product development and mixed-use.  There has been a steady stream of industry partner facilities opening locations on the Innovation Campus since 2014. Currently, there are approximately 50 businesses with locations on the Innovation Campus, including Airbus, Boston Consulting Group, Hexagon, and Textron Aviation.  Thanks to a grant the federal Economic Development Administration awarded WSU in 2022, the university will construct the Hub for Advanced Manufacturing and Research on the Innovation Campus to aid in the rapid development and adoption of emerging smart manufacturing technologies for South Kansas and apply those new technologies to industry partners in our region.  Beyond engineering, Wichita State’s Innovation Campus is the home of the Midwest Criminal Justice Institute (MCJI) and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) Gun Crime Intelligence Center of Excellence (GCIC COE) and the National Ballistic Information Network (NIBIN) Correlation and Training Center II (NNCTC II). 

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