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Florida Session Ends with Efforts to Expand Tech Commercialization, Elevate Universities

May 08, 2013

Lawmakers last week passed a $74.5 billion FY14 budget that expands efforts to commercialize research and boosts funds for life sciences and space-related investments. Under a sweeping new education bill, universities can qualify and receive additional resources as preeminent research universities. The measure also designates some higher education funding based on performance, and allows colleges to create low-cost degree programs.

Lawmakers passed a measure to expand the state's reach in working with innovative businesses to develop more startups focused on life sciences. Under current law, the Institute for the Commercialization of Public Research, a nonprofit organization that works with technology licensing officers across the state to create new companies, is permitted only to assist universities and public research institutes with technology commercialization. The new law broadens the reach to include businesses and allows the institute to create corporate subsidies and develop or accrue ownership, royalty, patent or other rights in the companies. The measure also creates a seed fund to foster greater private-sector investment funding and encourage seed-stage investments in startup companies. Lawmakers provided $5.5 million for the effort in the budget.

Overall, biomedical research funding was increased by $14.6 million compared to last year. A total $49.75 million was approved for several initiatives, including $10 million each for the King Biomedical Research program and Bankhead/Coley Cancer Research program, up from $7.15 million and $5 million, respectively. A new $10 million Cancer Center of Excellence program approved by lawmakers provides an endowment to establish a funded research chair. The accompanying legislation is SB 1660.

In another statewide effort to increase commercialization, the legislature dedicated additional funding in Space Florida's budget for aerospace R&D and commercialization of projects through an agreement with Israel ($1 million). Space Florida is slated to receive $19.5 million in FY14, up from $10 million last year. Of this amount, $10 million is for operating and business development, including $4 million in recurring funds. Enterprise Florida, a public-private partnership serving as the state's primary organization devoted to statewide economic development, will receive $18 million, up from $16 million last year.

The education bill signed by Gov. Rick Scott earlier in the session has several components with the goal of linking education to jobs and helping universities to gain national prominence. The bill identifies metrics for designating a state research university as preeminent. If the universities meet certain standards, they will be provided additional resources and flexibilities with the goal of improving national rankings. A similar measure to elevate the university system's global standing for research and innovation was passed by the legislature last year, but later vetoed by the governor, who opposed tuition increases related to the bill (see the May 2, 2013 issue of the Digest).

Florida also hopes to gain a competitive edge in online education by offering the research university that meets all 12 of the preeminence metrics (currently the University of Florida) funding to institute fully online baccalaureate degrees at a lower cost than traditional universities. The other preeminent university (Florida State University) will receive funding to recruit National Academy members, establish a master's degree in cloud virtualization, and institute an entrepreneur-in-residence program.

Once considered a lofty goal by the governor, the bill also puts into place measures to institute bachelor degrees that cost no more than $10,000 at the states' universities. Since the governor's announcement of the low-cost bachelor degree plan, governors from two other states, Texas and Wisconsin, have proposed similar initiatives. Funding for higher education was increased in the approved budget and lawmakers restored a $300 million cut for universities. However, students face a 3 percent tuition increase, reports The Gainesville Sun.

Gov. Scott also won approval for his proposal to eliminate sales tax on manufacturing equipment. The measure was touted as a way to attract more companies and remain globally competitive.

The FY14 approved budget awaits action by the governor and is available at: http://www.flsenate.gov/Session/Bill/2013/1500/BillText/er/PDF.

Floridastate budget, commercialization, bio, education