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APLU Names Winners of 2023 Innovation & Economic Prosperity University Awards

Seattle, WA – The Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU) today named the winners of its 11th annual Innovation & Economic Prosperity (IEP) University Awards and 11 new IEP University designees. The awards recognize innovative projects or programs in economic engagement.

APLU’s IEP Universities designation program helps higher education institutions codify, elevate, and advance their enterprise supporting economic and community development while providing national recognition to institutions committed to university economic development. To earn the designation, institutions complete a rigorous self-study and stakeholder engagement process. They also identify their economic development strengths and areas of growth and improvement.

APLU named University of Connecticut; Lakehead University; Michigan State University; University of Kentucky; University of North Carolina at Greensboro; Prairie View A&M University; Purdue University Northwest; Stony Brook University; University of Texas at San Antonio; University of Virginia’s College at Wise; and West Virginia University as Innovation and Economic Prosperity University Designees. Ninety-one institutions have been named IEP Universities designees since the program was launched in 2012.

“Universities are instrumental in driving talent development, innovation, and the growth of thriving places,” said APLU President Mark Becker. “We’re delighted to recognize the major impact our IEP designees and awardees have on their communities, states, and regions’ economies.”

This year’s IEP University Award winners are:

  • University of Alabama at Birmingham won the IEP Innovation award, recognizing exemplary initiatives spurring innovation, entrepreneurship, and technology-based economic development;
  • Kansas State University won the IEP Place award, for exemplary initiatives resulting in social, cultural, or community development;
  • Virginia Commonwealth University won the IEP Talent award, recognizing exemplary initiatives in education and workforce development;
  • Iowa State University won the IEP Economic Engagement Connections Award, the top-prize in the awards competition, recognizing overall excellence and leveraging across all three award categories.

To be eligible for an IEP award, an institution must first earn the Innovation and Economic Prosperity University designation from APLU, which recognizes institutional commitment to regional economic development.

IEP designees 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.

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 aforementioned categories.

More information on the winners’ 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 (VCU) 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.

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