Part III: Virtual Research University Meeting at MTU

This is the third post of a multi-part look at the mutual benefits between a research university and the region 'around' that university. For Part I of this series, see Benefits of Research Universities to Regional Innovation. For Part II of this series, see Virtual Research University for The New North.

On 18 February 2008, a meeting was held at Michigan Technological University (MTU) to discuss the concept and next steps for establishing an effective virtual research university relationship between MTU and the New North.

The virtual research university concept is that today's online communication and collaboration tools enable some regional innovation benefits of a research university to be enjoyed by regions and universities even though the university is not located in that region.

The 18 Feb meeting was held as a result of a number of conversations and teleconferences between New North residents and MTU representatives. The New North benefits from this relationship with MTU because research is done at MTU which is particularly applicable to the existing manufacturing economy and infrastructure in northeast Wisconsin and because the region does not have a research university, especially one focused on advanced manufacturing. MTU benefits from this relationship with the New North because of the good fit with the New North economy, the large number of potential MTU students in the area, and the opportunity to leverage more of its research through connections with the New North.

The agenda for the half-day meeting was as follows:

1PM - Lunch – Advanced Technology & Development Center (ATDC)

1:30PM - Introductions and agenda / objective overview for meetin

1:45PM - Concept overview of Michigan Tech as ‘virtual research university’ resource for the New Nort

2PM - Resource overview (facilities & equipment)

2:15PM - Faculty Research - common areas of interest

2:45PM - Undergraduate Sponsored Research Enterprise & Senior Design Programs

3:15PM - Overview of Alumni Relations, Corporate Development, and Career Cente

3:30PM - Brainstorming and discussion session for collaboratio

4PM - Wrap-up at ATDC

4:15PM - Tour resources on campus (facilities, labs, equipment, etc)

Due to weather and prior commitments, only four New North representatives were able to participate in the meeting in Houghton, Michigan, but the meeting went well and all those involved seemed to feel the virtual research university concept is well worth pursuing.

Two next steps that came out of the meeting are:
  1. Schedule a similar meeting in the New North in May 2008 to introduce the virtual research university concept in a location where more New North residents will be able to participate.
  2. Schedule several informal meetings in March and April 2008 in the New North for MTU alumni to discuss this innovation concept and to identify other individuals highly interested in working to establish an effective 'virtual research university' relationship between the New North and MTU.
The only concern I have regarding the 18 Feb meeting is the potential lack of New North focus on driving regional innovation through a strong relationship with a research university. The reason for this lack of focus is sort of a good thing, in that there are many opportunities for beneficial collaboration between the New North and MTU that have little or nothing to do directly with innovation. An example of this is the opportunity for New North companies to become more aware of specific reasons to hire MTU graduates; this won't necessarily drive innovation. My reason for pushing the virtual research university concept and for spending time to make this relationship work is to improve innovation in the region, not to get more MTU grads placed in jobs in the New North, although that's not a bad thing.

Below is a draft of the ways I think a research university can drive innovation in a region:
  1. Commercialize and spin-out IP
    1. Driven by the university
      1. Stanford IP model or similarly startup-friendly IP model
      2. Effective communications related to generated or needed IP (Tech Transfer Office or ?); for every $1 invested in TTO staff, university sees $6+ in licensing income
    2. Driven by region; focus on NN strength and growth areas
      1. Wind energy
      2. Advanced manufacturing
      3. Modern agribiz, including cellulosic bioproducts and other biorefineries
      4. Other?
  2. Faculty recognize opportunity and incentives to be entrepreneurs and to be serial mentors for startups
  3. Grant partnerships with universities, regional companies and individuals
    1. SBIR/STTR
    2. NSF
      1. Office of Cyberinfrastructure & building effective virtual organizations (http://www.ci.uchicago.edu/events/VirtOrg2008/)
      2. Organized collaboration with large prestigious universities, especially MIT and Stanford
    3. DOD, DOE, NIH, etc
  4. Disruptive technologies is primary innovation focus of the university/region relationship rather than incremental technology improvements
  5. Learn from others regarding geographical influence and transitioning from manufacturing economy to knowledge economy
    1. Studies show primary economic impact of university has traditionally been within 15 to 50 miles of the university
    2. University of Michigan conference on university role in transitioning from manufacturing economy to knowledge economy (http://www.urcmich.org/events/engageduniv.html)

If you have comments or suggestions regarding this effort, please consider meeting me for breakfast or coffee sometime! I'd love to talk with you about it...



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