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Driving regional innovation with smaller institutions: SSTI Conference preview

October 04, 2018

This month, we begin a four-part series focused on navigating innovation priorities in a variety of settings. The series features perspectives from experts in the field, presented in a Q&A format. Each practitioner we interviewed will also be presenting at our annual conference, where these topics will be explored in greater depth. Click here for more information on the conference.

This week, Part 1 focuses on driving regional innovation with smaller institutions and modest R&D budgets. We heard from Michael Stubblefield, vice chancellor for Research and Strategic Initiatives, Southern University and A&M College; and, Jim Woodell, consultant and former vice president of APLU’s Economic Development and Community Engagement.

Q: What role can universities with smaller research budgets play in regional economic development efforts?

A:  Jim Woodell - Even without a huge research budget, universities can become central players in entrepreneurial ecosystems by fostering innovation and entrepreneurship among faculty and students, and by connecting local business and industry to whatever research is going on at the institution. The university doesn't have to generate a lot of technology or IP to be an enabler of innovation and entrepreneurship in the local ecosystem.

Q: What kind of challenges have you had to overcome in supporting innovation in your region?

A: Michael Stubblefield - Fiscal constraints have heavily impacted our university in investing in many growth opportunities, particularly in the areas of research and entrepreneurship. Strategic partnerships, locally and nationally, have assisted in the deployment of unique programs. This is especially true as Southern continues to align its mission with state and national priorities supportive of workforce and economic development.

Q: What sort of success stories have you seen?

A: Jim Woodell – Sometimes if an institution is not doing tech transfer, they wonder how they can be part of the economic development of a region. Northern Illinois University provides a great example with all the work they do with the aerospace community in Rockford.

In addition, APLU established the Innovation and Economic Prosperity Universities Program to recognize all types of institutions that have been successful in their commitment to economic development in their communities. It is important to note that many of these institutions have smaller research budgets and are able to foster an innovation ecosystem without concentrating solely on tech transfer efforts. We cataloged many of those in the online case study library on the IEP site.

Q: Are there partners you work with to help complement or extend your R&D/innovation activities?

A: Michael Stubblefield - Yes. We are working aggressively with organizations, such as the Thurgood Marshall College Fund, in the development of a new model for HBCU communities of innovation which blends academics (workforce), research (innovation and entrepreneurship), and service (community and economic development) in a singular formula. This model supports HBCU innovation while promoting a diverse and creative workforce, creating small business collaborations with global connections, and impactful change in communities that are historically socially and economically distressed. Also, we work with the Oak Ridge Associated Universities whereby our goal is to strengthen our contracting capacity with the public sector. These service opportunities simultaneously promote research, entrepreneurship, and student experiential experiences.

To learn more from Stubblefield and Woodell along with Don Willie, executive director of Technology, Innovation, and Entrepreneurship Center / SBDC Regional Director, Dixie State, join us in Salt Lake City for SSTI’s 2018 Annual Conference: Navigating the New Innovation Landscape, Dec. 3-5.

economic development, higher ed, r&d, innovation