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Universities Seek External Funds for Big Data R&D Centers

August 25, 2016
By: Robert Ksiazkiewicz

The big data technology and services market is expected to grow at a compound annual rate of 23.1 percent over the 2014-2019 forecast period, with annual spending projected to reach$48.6 billion in 2019, according to a 2015 study from IDC – a market research firm. Hoping to leverage this exponential growth into research and economic development opportunity, several universities are fund raising to establish new big data R&D Centers in the communities they serve. The results are mixed so far: while big data center projects at universities in Massachusetts, Nebraska, and Nevada are seeing significant progress, the University of Akron’s proposed Center for Data Science, Analytics and Information Technology will be shuttering its doors before it ever opened.

On August 17, Gov. Charlie Baker announced Massachusetts will make a four-year, $5 million investment in the University of Massachusetts Amherst’s (UMass) Data Science/Cybersecurity Research and Education Collaborative – a public-private partnership designed to accelerate data science innovation in the Pioneer Valley region of Western Massachusetts. The state funding is intended to support UMass efforts centered around the commercialization of new products and ideas, train a 21st century data science workforce, and build collaborative regional economic development activities, according to a UMass press release. The funding comes from the state’s Collaborative Research and Development Matching Grant Program.

The state commitment follows recent announcement of a 10-year, $15 million commitment from MassMutual Foundation, Inc.. Approximately $12 million of the foundation funding will be used to hire faculty and add courses at the school’s Center for Data Science; The remaining $3 million is earmarked for cyber security research. UMass also promised to create a new cybersecurity certificate at the UMass Springfield campus to help working professionals in that region develop necessary cybersecurity skills.

In July, the University of Nebraska Omaha (UNO) announced the creation of the Nebraska Applied Research Institute (NARI). Building on existing UNO resources, NARI will “work directly with businesses and government entities to find solutions to today’s toughest customer-focused problems” in three applied research focus areas:

  • Data Science;
  • Cyber Physical Systems; and,
  • Modeling, Simulation, and Visualization.

The new center will organize teams of researchers to work on client-driven projects as well as provide opportunities for collaboration across all University of Nebraska campuses. UNO officials anticipate the new center will officially open within three years. Until that time, NARI will be housed inside the Scott Technology Center. In addition to some private funding, NARI also will receive state funding according to an article from the Omaha World-Herald.

Meanwhile, the University of Nevada Las Vegas (UNLV) submitted a formal proposal for a new interdisciplinary R&D institute focused on big data, with the intent of making UNLV a go-to resource for data analytics as well as spurring economic prosperity in the region through partnerships with local industries. Currently, UNLV is attempting to raise both public and private dollars to support the creation of the center including the submission of a proposal for $500,000 from the Governor’s Office of Economic Development through the state’s $10 million Knowledge Fund. The Las Vegas Sun reports that once UNLV receives university approval,  a decision from the state would take several weeks..

The proposed center is intended to build upon existing efforts including Cherry Creek II – a 26,000-core supercomputer turned on in 2015 – that helps researchers do complex computation with large data sets. Once launched, UNLV’s proposed Institute for Big Data would create a platform for big-data computation and a new system for data storage. It also would serve as an interface for the university with local industry partners creating a platform for big-data computation and a new system for data storage. The center would focus on four sectors requiring big data: gaming, hospitality, health care and advanced mobility. Additionally, the center would provide support for university startups though a student-focused incubator, according to the Las Vegas Sun.

Not all university efforts to gain a foothold in future big data industry growth are bearing fruit, however.  University of Akron officials have announced the institution will not move ahead with plans for the Center for Data Science, Analytics and Information Technology, according to Cleveland.com. In the face of financial uncertainty driven by declining enrollment, the university was unable to raise the adequate base funding for the project. The announcement was made after Mario Garzia – the center’s executive director and former Microsoft executive – submitted his resignation letter, effective December 9.

Massachusetts, Nebraska, Nevada, Ohiohigher ed, big data