Next month the University of Georgia, as well as the broader Athens community, will celebrate the entrepreneurial spirit at the Innovation Showcase, to be held April 26 in the Delta Innovation Hub. The event is intended is intended to celebrate the success of those entrepreneurs who have worked tirelessly, taking risks to move their ideas and technologies to market, as well as to attract and inspire new innovators to turn their own entrepreneurial dreams into reality.
With this annual celebration fast approaching, now is a great time to reflect on the activity and success in research commercialization that was a key driver in UGA’s decision to launch its Innovation District initiative more than three years ago. Having served on the task force that recommended forming the Innovation District, I’m especially enthusiastic about this topic; it represents one of the best ways we as academic researchers can ensure our work is leveraged for the greatest benefit to society.
I’m sure you’ve heard about our Top 5 ranking in bringing new products to market through collaboration with our industry partners. Indeed, UGA has never not been in the Top 5 as long as this metric has been available. But that number only begins to describe the history of success UGA has had in research commercialization—a history that stretches back several decades. Did you know that the Bradford assay, a method to quantify protein still used today, was discovered at UGA in the 1970s? Overall, more than 900 products based on UGA research have reached the market, including over 250 products in just the past five years.
In the numbers released each year by AUTM, you would be hard-pressed to find a measure in which UGA is not among the nation’s leaders. Number of active commercial licenses? We’ve been in the Top 10 for 14 straight years. Annual licensing deal flow? Also Top 10 for 14 years. Total active startup companies? Top 30 for 18 years.
The list goes on. The National Academy of Inventors has existed for only 12 years, yet in that short time 12 UGA faculty members have been elected as NAI Fellows, and another eight elected as senior members. In the 2021-22 cycle alone, three more UGA faculty members were elected into each of those categories.
While the Covid-19 pandemic has caused a small decrease in our commercialization activity, there is still plenty of good news to share. Did you know external funding for UGA-related startups has tripled in the past five years? We have approximately 120 startup projects in our pipeline, a number that has remained constant since pre-pandemic.
Last December we officially opened the Delta Innovation Hub, which has quickly become the campus research commercialization engine. Providing both event space and office square footage for companies that want to be close to UGA research talent, the Hub is filled nearly every day and many evenings with innovators both new and seasoned. To see this historic building reimagined and now functioning as a whirring Hub for creative innovation has been one of the true pleasures of my time as VPR. I’m so grateful to the Delta Air Lines Foundation for making this space possible.
There is much more to come in 2022 from Innovation Gateway, UGA’s research commercialization unit, based in the Office of Research. Our Innovation Bootcamp, which has trained nearly 100 budding entrepreneurs, is set to expand thanks to the generosity of the Truist Foundation. Having enrolled three cohorts of female innovators and a fourth dedicated to the music industry, this spring and next academic year we plan to enroll cohorts of computing researchers, entrepreneurs of color and military veterans in the program.
Innovation Gateway recently received federal funding to enhance its NSF Innovation Corps (I-Corps) program with new technology to connect people remotely, as well as a Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) FAST grant to provide grant writing assistance to startup companies across the state. Gateway also is expanding its graduate student internship program, which has trained 30 students over the past five years in the business of research commercialization, to enroll recent Ph.D. graduates as postdoctoral licensing associates.
What does this mean? Of all those licensing deals that garnered AUTM recognition, the vast majority are with Georgia companies, helping them stay competitive and keeping significant financial return within the state. As for UGA startup companies, one analysis showed that UGA-affiliated startups—through the jobs they create—have an annual economic impact of $531 million, including $322 million in Georgia alone.
And, of course, there is the broader impact on our own students, faculty, staff and friends. As the UGA Entrepreneurship Program has exploded in size, the Innovation District and all the real-world opportunities it affords to students have grown with it. The Delta Innovation Hub serves as a showcase for our innovation ecosystem, hosting tours for elected officials, industry partners, donors, business owners and others interested in UGA’s success.
UGA’s Innovation District brings together the passions and talents represented on every corner of our campus, from engineering to fine art to veterinary medicine, journalism, music, psychology, bioinformatics and so many more. It represents the ideals of a land-grant university, putting the products of our research and discovery mission to work for our communities.
If you haven’t been involved in the Innovation District, I encourage you to attend our Research Live event, “The Latest in Research Commercialization @ UGA,” on Friday, April 8, at 11 a.m. Derek Eberhart, associate vice president for research and executive director of Innovation Gateway, along with Ian Biggs, director of startups, will share all of this news and more, as well as answer your questions.
I hope you’ll participate!
Karen J. L. Burg
Vice President for Research
Harbor Lights Chair in Biomedical Research