Our Work

APLU Innovation & Economic Prosperity Award Winners

2019 Connections Award Winner

Innovation & Economic Prosperity University awards go to APLU member universities that demonstrate excellence and leadership in planning, implementing, and evaluating programs and initiatives that support regional economic development and engagement. Institutions are only eligible to apply for IEP Awards once they have earned the IEP University designation.

Awards are given in the following categories:

  1. the “Talent” award honors an institution with exemplary initiatives in education and workforce development;
  2. the “Innovation” award honors an institution demonstrating outstanding work in technology transfer, entrepreneurship, and business development;
  3. the “Place” award recognizes a university that is excelling in community, social, and cultural development work; and
  4. the “Economic Engagement Connections” award – the top-prize in the competition – recognizes an institution that is making strong, meaningful connections across talent, innovation and place. Connectivity across university efforts in these areas is critical to a strong, vibrant and successful economic engagement enterprise.

Congratulations to all our 2021 IEP award winners and Connections award finalists! The winners are University of Cincinnati for Talent, Iowa State for Place, and the University of Colorado Boulder for Innovation. All the category award finalists are candidates for the top-prize Connections Award. The 2020 Connections Award winner is Ohio University.

Talent Award Winner: Seeking to meet talent needs and drive economic growth for the region, the University of Cincinnati boldly accelerated the development and attraction of talent for industry with the opening of its 1819 Innovation Hub in 2017. Noting the swift success of 1819, Governor Mike DeWine unveiled the Cincinnati Innovation District (CID) in March 2020. Powered by the University of Cincinnati, the CID envelops myriad innovation assets and access to some of the world’s leading academic and research centers, organizations and talent pools. The district’s mission is to become a globally recognized talent hub and lead a transformational movement. The combination of industry engagement, unique experiential platforms and accessible research expertise — working at the pace of change — will become a model nationwide.

Innovation Award Winner: The University of Colorado Boulder takes a multipronged approach to regional economic development, including a major effort to develop a place-based strategy of innovation and entrepreneurship development. The university’s Innovation & Entrepreneurship initiative offers hands-on experiences for students, faculty, staff, and community and industry partners. Experiences include academic courses and co-curricular workshops, mentorship opportunities, a campus business venture competition called the New Venture Challenge, as well as a summer startup venture accelerator program, job fairs that connect students with startups, and physical maker spaces. The New Venture Challenge is the largest and longest-running venture program of its kind, connecting the campus with the Boulder community to develop and fund promising entrepreneurial ideas. Since 2009, over 700 teams have participated in NVC. Student and faculty ventures competing in NVC have gone on to raise capital, be acquired by corporate partners, and reach sustainable revenue and substantial local employment. The university’s research commercialization effort, Venture Partners, also works to help translate research breakthroughs to commercial successes. Last year, the commercialization division helped support 12 new technology startups and nearly 60 license and options agreements. Venture Partners-supported businesses employ approximately 11,500 workers and have a nearly $2 billion economic impact annually.

Place Award Winner: Iowa State University takes a comprehensive and innovative approach to commercializing research insights and supporting businesses across the state. The university hosts America’s Small Business Development Centers Iowa (SBDC), providing no-cost, customized business consulting across the state’s 99 counties to help entrepreneurs and small business owners address their greatest challenges. SBDC provides workshops teaching practical skills and techniques, market research, and access to subject-matter experts. SBDC has served as an economic development hub for small businesses and has established partnerships to reach all areas of the state. These connections allow for increased access to resources for all Iowa residents interested in starting or growing a business and include Spanish-speaking advisors to support the Hispanic community. Efforts include bringing digital resources and marketing to rural and underserved markets, as well as providing financial literacy training for minority business owners and supporting their efforts to raise capital. The university’s extension arm has created the Rural Housing Readiness Assessment (RHRA), which helps participating communities learn where to find information they need, how to interpret the data, and how to incorporate it into decisions for their community.

Connections Award Winner: Ohio University has made community and economic engagement efforts to serve its region. The university is working to advance research and knowledge discovery that promotes vibrant communities across the state. Ohio University is: increasing its applied research to address challenges facing its communities; expanding research to support existing strengths; expanding partnerships with corporations; and supporting undergraduate research focused on enhancing community success. Ohio University’s incubator for technology startup companies, the Innovation Center, supported 335 jobs that generated an estimated $22 million in employee compensation in Athens County in 2019. Over the last six years, the business incubator’s job creation numbers have more than doubled, and employee compensation generated from its client companies has nearly tripled. Since 1996, the university’s George Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Service has worked with communities to foster local economic development, reaching more than 60 Ohio counties, including all 32 in Appalachia.

Congratulations to all our 2020 IEP award winners and Connections award finalists! The winners are California State University at Northridge for Talent, Iowa State for Innovation, and the University of Pittsburgh for Place. All the category award finalists are candidates for the top-prize Connections Award. The 2020 Connections Award winner is Purdue University.

Talent Award Winner: Seeking to diversify the biomedical research workforce, California State University, Northridge (CSUN) established the Building Infrastructure Leading to Diversity (BUILD) program in 2014 with support from the National Institutes of Health. The effort seeks to cultivate talent and address health inequities through education, research, and community engagement. Students and mentors develop research questions, methods, interpretations, and applications through critical race theory, providing a framework for critically investigating how legal, educational, and now, healthcare systems reproduce and normalize racism in society. Students begin with a Summer JumpStart program to orient them to the ethical and technical aspects of biomedical research, take advanced research methods and professional development courses, and participate in summer research training opportunities.

CSUN has also formed the Health Equity Research and Education Center to support faculty members and postdoctoral scholars who mentor undergraduate researchers. BUILD has supported and trained nearly 200 students and over 100 faculty mentors who work together on mutual biomedical research projects and present their work at professional conferences. Students originate from CSUN as well as four community college pipeline partners, including East Los Angeles College, Los Angeles Valley College, Los Angeles Pierce College, and Pasadena City College.

Innovation Award Winner: Iowa State University (ISU) has placed cultivating entrepreneurship and innovation at the heart of its economic engagement and development efforts. ISU has a host of programs centered on entrepreneurship, including an undergraduate major and minor, graduate certificate and Ph.D. program in the discipline, as well as experiential learning opportunities outside of the classroom and venture creation and small business support. To help create a flourishing manufacturing industry in Iowa, the university’s Center for Industrial Research and Service (CIRAS) provides services to strengthen businesses, working primarily in seven industries that comprise half of Iowa’s economy.

Amid the growing pandemic in March 2020, CIRAS identified companies with complementary capabilities to design, create, and produce desperately needed Personal Protective Equipment such as face shields. Within weeks, the joint venture was producing more than 150,000 units a week. The Pappajohn Center for Entrepreneurship is at the crossroads of the university’s innovation and entrepreneurship ecosystem, providing a wide array of experiential and competitive learning opportunities and the tools and resources necessary to build and improve Iowa businesses. To date, 177 students have gained consulting experience through the CyBIZ Lab interdisciplinary student consulting program and 50 student ventures have participated in the CYstarters summer accelerator program. ISU has also launched a state-of-the-art Student Innovation Center, creating a hands-on hub for students to collaborate, design, build, and test their ideas.

Place Award Winner: The University of Pittsburgh (Pitt) has made its partnerships in and with the Pittsburgh neighborhood of Homewood a centerpiece of its place-based community and economic engagement strategy. Pitt has taken a multifaceted approach to cultivating talent in Homewood, promoting innovation, and creating an environment fostering economic prosperity through its 20,000 square foot neighborhood-based Community Engagement Center and associated programs at the Manufacturing Assistance Center, BioShelter, and K12 outreach. Building on long-standing involvement in Homewood by various faculty and schools, Pitt made a long-term institutional commitment to partner the breadth of its engagement assets, across all 16 schools and various business units, with community-based partners to pursue impact and opportunities for the residents of Homewood for the next 25 years.

Some example outcomes include: Pitt’s School of Social Work partnering with community organizations and the three neighborhood schools to provide holistic support to students and their families; Pitt’s Institute for Entrepreneurial Excellence offering a six-month counseling and training program which has graduated 50 entrepreneurs in Homewood and provided consulting services to 21 area businesses since 2017; and the School of Education’s Justice Scholars Program, which has enrolled more than 40 high school students into college bearing classes, qualitative research experiences, and service-learning opportunities all focused on social justice. The effort has also brought a bioshelter to Homewood, offering a DC microgrid and hydroponic food growing initiative and a manufacturing career training center that trains 80 individuals to become machinists each year with a 95 percent job placement rate. Guided by a Neighborhood Advisory Council and a visible, long-term commitment of partnerships, the University of Pittsburgh’s work in Homewood is an exemplar of equitable community and economic engagement.

Connections Award Winner: To help improve college readiness and cultivate diversity in STEM disciplines, Purdue University opened its first location of Purdue Polytechnic High School (PPHS) in 2017. PPHS takes a radically different approach to high school education. They’ve replaced the traditional high school model with a personalized, flexible schedule that allows each student to learn at their own pace and competency-based education in which students are always encouraged to improve and grow. In order to provide students with real-world experience and early career exposure, PPHS, in tandem with local industry leaders like Subaru, Salesforce, and Eskanazi, created industry projects. These projects include a field visit to an industry partner site where students learn about the challenges partners are trying to solve and support and mentorship throughout the project cycle. Students then go back to school, armed with real-world experience, mentorship and the design-thinking process to solve one of the very real challenges facing industry today. Aimed at sparking their curiosity and building collaborative skills, the instructional approach allows students to pursue passion projects in which they have choice and voice in how they apply their knowledge and skills. Students work with personalized learning coaches and classmates who advise them on their goals and work.

Purdue University also helps train teachers at the high school to facilitate college-level courses that help place students on track for academic success when they reach college. Graduates from Purdue Polytechnic High School score significantly better than benchmarked peers on college readiness assessments. Students in their junior year meeting Purdue University admissions criteria are invited to live on campus for a least one week over the summer to earn college credit and get a taste of the college experience. Building on this model, Purdue Polytechnic High School opened its second Indianapolis campus in 2019 and its third campus in South Bend in August of 2020.

Talent Award Winner: Wayne State University is engaged in city-wide and regional initiatives to improve workforce participation rates and increase the proportion of individuals with high-skill credentials and college degrees. Research from the National Institute for Literacy revealed that 47 percent of the city’s residents lack basic literacy skills. Recognizing the far-reaching impact of illiteracy on the community, the university established the Office of Adult Literacy in 2012 and launched the Harris Literacy Program in 2013. With the underlying goal of workforce development, the program provides adult basic education to help members of the Detroit community reach their academic goals and make steps toward greater self-sufficiency. In 2018, the program provided services to 160 English language and 150 math students, leading to 26 students enrolling in G.E.D. classes. The literacy center has served more than 1,700 Detroiters since 2013. Additionally, Wayne State launched a suite of programs in 2018-19 to help adults with some college, but no degree. The university has identified and is reaching out to nearly 53,000 individuals, encouraging them to return to school. Through a pioneering debt-forgiveness program, innovative pathways including reverse transfer, and strong partnerships with community colleges, Wayne State is driving a talent development agenda and paving the way for students to earn their bachelor as well as their associate’s degrees. As a result of these city-wide and regional collaborations in which Wayne State is playing a leading role, Detroit was recently recognized as a Talent Hub by the Lumina Foundation.

Innovation Award Winner: University of Michigan has launched a set of programs to help spur innovation and startup creation. Its Small Company Innovation Program (SCIP) launched in 2015 to help emerging companies overcome common challenges – such as providing research, development, and testing support – so entrepreneurs have what they need to succeed. The program connects companies to researchers and labs at the state’s public universities, which often have facilities and expertise that companies desperately need but are unable to identify or afford. The program’s team identifies university research partners and co-funds projects statewide through a network of 15 public universities called the Michigan Corporate Relations Network. SCIP project managers build relationships with tech transfer and business engagement professionals as well as STEM academics at most universities who can assist companies with engagement of an appropriate faculty member. Student research associates provide competitive landscape analysis for the client, which also helps inform the program’s funding decisions. SCIP is funded by the Michigan Economic Development Corporation and administered by the University of Michigan’s Economic Growth Institute. To date, SCIP has facilitated 80 collaborative projects involving nearly 70 companies that led to over $1.7 million in awards.

Place Award Winner: Purdue University launched its Center for Regional Development in 2005 to deepen its economic engagement across the state and region. The center leads a variety of initiatives to address the unique needs of each community it works in and spur development across the state. Partnering with Ball State University, the center’s Hometown Collaboration Initiative works to grow local capacity in leadership and economic placemaking. The effort has worked with 19 Indiana communities, leading to the development of community parks, entrepreneur resources, and neighborhood revitalization. The effort places particular emphasis on sparking civic spirt in the state’s rural areas. It has recruited 400 Hoosiers to serve on local coordinating committees and drawn more than 1,200 residents to community forums. The effort has resulted in 12,000 hours of volunteering. The Purdue Center for Regional Development also conducted the most exhaustive study ever undertaken on the benefits and costs of providing broadband to households in rural Indiana. The study prompted Governor Holcomb to pursue a $100 million investment to expand broadband to unserved areas of Indiana. The center has teamed with the Indiana Office of Community and Rural Affairs to develop and implement Rural Broadband Planning Grants.

Connections Award Winner: North Carolina State University has taken a multipronged approach to developing talent that fuels economic development. The NC State Entrepreneurship Clinic works to integrate research, teaching, and work-and-learning opportunities to help students build the next generation of businesses in Raleigh. Students observe startup founders leading firms at various stages of development. The clinic provides courses and practice for both undergraduate and graduate students across multiple disciplines, including business, engineering, design, textiles, agriculture, and computer science. Since the program launched in 2015 with just nine students in its inaugural year, the clinic has increased service to include nearly 800 students representing 22 majors. The program has seen 21 percent growth in student participation semester over semester and had 169 students develop projects during the Fall 2018 semester. Since 2015, 17 student startups have launched, raising over $5.6 million in outside funding to assist with student startups. The clinic received the 2018 Excellence in Co-Curricular Innovation Award from the United States Association for Small Business and Entrepreneurship.

Talent Award Winner: Colorado State University (CSU) has worked to significantly broaden the geographic reach of its workforce development impact in recent years. CSU expanded a network of statewide engagement hubs that supplement current work underway through Extension offices. The university has created Campus Connections, a campus-based mentoring program pairing CSU student mentors with at-risk youth in the area. The students work one-on-one with the children, who range in age from 11 to 18, to tackle challenges facing the youth. As part of the program, CSU students enroll in a three-credit course centered on mentoring literature. The students then spend four hours each week providing academic help, career planning, and goal setting. In addition to helping at-risk youth overcome challenges and develop key skills, the program helps CSU students develop indispensable leadership skills. To help ensure the program’s success, the university engages a wide range of community stakeholders, from local school districts to Department of Human Services to judges in area juvenile courts. Since its inception, the program has served 2,250 youth and engaged 2,700 CSU students.

Innovation Award Winner: The University of Pittsburgh’s (Pitt) Office of Economic Partnerships worked with the Brookings Institution to conduct a study of the City of Pittsburgh’s innovation capacity and develop a plan to help Pittsburgh become one of the 30 most innovative cities in the world. Since the study was published in late 2017, the university has worked to realize the comprehensive vision laid out in the report. Pitt recently purchased the former Allegheny County Health Department Building to develop it as an innovation hub where students and researchers can work alongside thriving companies. The university also recently announced it will create a mixed-use research facility hosting the UPMC Immune Transplant and Therapy Center. The center will be supported with a $200 million research investment to help researchers translate their findings into solutions that help patients increase their quality of life and life expectancy. The new project is one of a host of innovation hubs the university is launching across the city to support pathbreaking research and business development.

Place Award Winner: The University of New Mexico created the Lobo Rainforest Building at Innovate ABQ to help support research and innovation on campus. The project is a public-private partnership between the university, the Nusenda Credit Union, the City of Albuquerque, and Bernalillo County. The building is located close to downtown Albuquerque, near a variety of businesses, and on one of the city’s rapid transit lines. The six-story building provides a common area supporting students and public enterprises as well as student housing for 310 students who are enrolled in entrepreneurial programs at the university. The Lobo Rainforest Building also houses the university’s technology transfer and economic development office as well as the university’s startup incubator. Ten startups are located in the building and General Atomics, a global engineering firm and defense contractor, has its first physical presence in Albuquerque in the building. The co-working space has provided essential co-working space to fledging firms in the area.

Connections Award Winner: Montana State University created the Fort Peck Nursing Project to provide health care to underserved individuals living on the Fort Peck Reservation. Four-hundred and fifty miles from Bozeman, the reservation is isolated from critical health care services despite an array of health care-related challenges facing the community. To help fill health care gaps, each year roughly 50 Montana State nursing students in their junior year travel to the reservation to serve weeklong stints providing services to the Native American populations on the reservation. In addition to providing primary health care, the students give preventative health care guidance on issues such as nutrition, mental health, and dental hygiene. The students are immersed in Assiniboine and Sioux tribe cultures as they provide in-school care, make home visits, and participate in events. Since the start of the program in 2010, more than 300 nursing students have had over 14,000 patient interactions – not only providing essential health care to underserved populations, but also helping the students gain vital experience of working with patients of other cultural backgrounds.

For the Place Award category, the University of Maryland at College Park won the prize for its efforts to deepen the institution’s engagement with the College Park and Prince George’s County communities. Under the leadership of President Wallace Loh, UMD partnered with the city of College Park to launch the University District Vision 2020 to spur economic development throughout the city. The initiatives includes financial incentives for staff and faculty who purchase homes in the city and land, financial resources, and educational and administrative support for the creation of College Park Academy, a public charter school managed through the community partnership and the university’s College of Education. The district is home to technology incubator spaces, a community arts house, a clinical outreach station by the School of Public Health, facilities that host R&D 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.

For the top-prize in the competition, the Economic Engagement Connections Award, went to the University of Maryland at College Park. UMD was honored as the first two-time winner of the Connections award for its cross-cutting and holistic approach to economic engagement. University District Vision 2020 links and leverages contributions across innovation and entrepreneurship, talent and workforce development and ‘placemaking’ through community engagement, public service and outreach.

In the Innovation Award category, Kansas State University took the prize for its Knowledge Based Economic Development partnership that leverages connections with civic and private sector organizations to attract companies and hundreds of jobs to the region; its Center for the Advancement of Entrepreneurship which provides mentorship, support, and funding to budding entrepreneurs; and its Institute for Commercialization that facilitates technology transfer, strategic partnerships with industry, as well as research and development collaborations.

In the Talent Award category, Iowa State University came first for the work of its Pappajohn Center for Entrepreneurship which provides training and talent development for students interested in startup and venture formation; it’s CyBiz Lab provides interdisciplinary consulting to companies and faculty commercialization efforts that provide students with hands-on experience while supporting local businesses; and its North Central STEM Hub, one of six regional hubs of the Iowa Governor’s STEM Initiative, to spark student interest in the STEM disciplines.

For the Talent category, Montana State University won the prize for its ability to harness the unique abilities of students and community members in a variety of settings. Its Optical Technology Center (OpTec) has growing into a leading photonics hub, attracting several businesses and training hundreds of undergraduate and graduate students in the field. At the same time Montana State University has built strong relationships with the many Native American tribes across the state and partnered with them on a number of projects that promote better health and living standards while also teaching valuable new skills to students and community members.

The Innovation category award winner, Purdue University, has expanded its impact in the tech industry by investing heavily in multiple campus facilities such as the Wilmeth Active Learning Center, the Flex Lab, the Bechtel Innovation Design Center, the Maurice J. Zucrow Laboratories, and the Purdue College of Technology into the Purdue Polytechnic Institute. At the same time, the University has made significant contributions to the medical industry through Discovery Park, a research center that has innovated in the fields of cancer research, infectious diseases, and drug development.

As the Place category award winner, Colorado State University has leveraged the resources of its community to address local problems on a global scale. For instance, its School of Global Sustainability (SoGES) is a special academic unit that incorporates faculty from multiple disciplines to work with students and together address environmental, economic, and social issues. Meanwhile Colorado State University confirmed its commitment to sustainable energy by launching the Energy Institute at the Powerhouse Energy Campus, consolidating energy research into one location and making it easier for faculty and students to collaborate with industry and government partners.

Receiving the top award in the Connections category was Arizona State University, who have moved beyond the traditional campus design to meet the needs of students and community members where they are. One example is their Downtown Phoenix Campus, that not only serves over 2,500 full-time students but has expanded to offer five colleges on-site, including its well-regarded Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication. Arizona State University also developed the Polytechnic Campus in Mesa, which converted a former US Air Force base into a campus that leverages its suburban setting into projects and partnerships with local businesses.

The Talent category winner, Clemson University, has fueled workforce development in the auto industry through partnerships with leading auto industry organizations, and through its University Professional Internship and Co-op Program helped nearly 850 students gain internship experience in a variety of fields, many connected to university faculty partnerships with business and industry.

In the Innovation category, the University of Minnesota took the prize for Minnesota’s Discovery, Research, and InnoVation Economy (MnDRIVE) initiative, which has helped catalyze the launch of a record 16 startups in 2015, bringing its total to 86 since 2006. The University of Minnesota also demonstrated how research and innovation are fueling entrepreneurship and building resilient communities.

The Place category winner was Auburn University. The University’s Rural Studio, established in 1993, provides hands-on experience in architectural education and at the same time improves living conditions in western rural Alabama. Auburn is also working to sustain its community by strengthening the live chicken production industry and by fostering the growth of the emergent oyster industry.

The University of Maryland garnered the top award, in the Connections category. The university has partnered with Northrop Grumman to create the Advanced Cyber security Experiences for Students, cementing its place at the vanguard of one of the most strategically important fields of the 21st century. Through its Live, Learn, and Earn in Greater College Park initiative, the university is tying their leading talent development efforts to research and innovation, and to community building.

The University of Massachusetts Boston received the “Talent” award for promoting a diverse STEM workforce; supporting educators shifting toward applied, industry-informed IT education; and building an integrated biomedical research and training facility, among many other efforts.

Georgia Institute of Technology received the “Innovation” award for its technology-based economic development efforts, including the commercialization of ground-breaking inventions, the evolution of a leading business outreach and economic development organization, and the transformation of empty city lots and abandoned warehouses into an innovation neighborhood.

The “Place” award went to North Carolina State University for its reinvention of the very notion of what a research park should be, creating a self-sustained city in the university’s science park, including research, residential, and retail establishments; collocating university and industry facilities to spur collaboration; and making a smart library for the 21st century a centerpiece of their Centennial Campus.

For the top-prize “Connections” award, University of Houston received the honor for focusing on creating an innovation ecosystem by nurturing interdependence between internal know-how and resources, and input from university stakeholders and industry experts. UH was also recognized for inspiring a new generation of innovators by developing both technical capacity and entrepreneurial talent in their students, for building an Energy Research Park that is enriching the social and cultural fabric of the community, and for making connections between and among their efforts in innovation and entrepreneurship, talent development, and the cultivation of place.

The “Innovation” award went to State University of New York (SUNY) for its Research Foundation, the largest university affiliated foundation in the nation. The Research Foundation launched a state-wide system of innovation programs to further the development and creation of new ideas, companies, and jobs across a platform of state-wide higher education and research.

The University of Michigan also received the “Innovation” award for its multipronged approach to technology transfer that includes the Institute for Research on Labor, Employment, and the Economy, the Business Engagement Center, and The Venture Center.

Northern Illinois University received the “Place” award for meeting the needs of its region in multiple and creative ways. The university provided high-speed internet connectivity for rural areas with the NIUNet initiative, strengthened connections between primary, secondary, and tertiary education through the Center for P-20 Engagement, and promoted job growth by supporting a strong aerospace cluster by launching the Rockford Area Aerospace Accelerator Project and other programs.

The top-prize “Connections” award winner was the University of Cincinnati, which worked with a variety of stakeholders to advance public/private partnerships while also enhancing the student learning experience. Students and faculty interface with business and community partners at the UC Research Institute, and students further their education at the Procter and Gamble/UC Simulation Center and the UC Forward Initiative, both of which provide students opportunities to work on real-world problems and/or engage with community members.

Featured Project & Initiative

The Data Literacy Institute – a partnership between APLU and the Association for Institutional Research with funding from Ascendium – brings together cross-departmental teams from 11 Powered by Publics institutions from Cluster 14 to engage in training that enhance their use of data to improve equitable student outcomes. In May 2022, Powered by Publics held […]

Featured Publication

2022 APLU Annual Report