Partnerships improve job growth in the state

The Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis has predicted glacial job growth in Minnesota, but this pace will be difficult for the state to sustain and remain competitive at the same time.

We at the University of Minnesota believe an antidote for slow job growth lies in forming strong public-private partnerships, and that is why we are dramatically expanding an innovative effort to help boost the state’s economy.

Called Minnesota Innovation Partnerships, or MN-IP, the program lowers the cost and risk for companies to tap into university research and resources, providing essential ingredients for economic development. One variant of the program helps companies sponsor research. And by providing a one-time, low, upfront fee, companies receive an exclusive worldwide license to intellectual property arising from sponsored research.

The ease and low-cost of participating creates predictability in doing business with the university on intellectual property licensing because terms and conditions are established in advance of technology development and available for review ahead of time.

What’s new is that the expanded version of the program includes MN­-IP Try and Buy, which helps companies take innovation for a “test-run” and determine if previously completed university research can be commercialized. Companies are offered financial incentives and streamlined negotiation to make it easier to test the feasibility of solutions already developed. One of the highlights of the new program is the discount allotted to Minnesota companies, which reduces royalty rates and fees for the trial period.

The goal of both variants of MN-IP is to transfer technology from the laboratory to the private sector where new industries—and job growth—are made. Already, the program has resulted in 87 partnerships to develop products and services across numerous industries. Other universities and industry experts have taken an interest in the program, too. Our staff has been invited to speak about the program on a number of occasions to a variety of regional and national audiences, including in a webinar April 16 targeted at tech transfer offices.

MN-IP is one of the nation’s most unique partnership structures between a public university and industry. Recognized by the U.S. Department of Commerce and the White House as a groundbreaking approach, it is one tactic among several that state leaders and university officials are bringing to bear on the area economy.

But we all know that one program is not enough to turn the tide of slow growth. In Minnesota, we believe the answer is also found in programs like MnDRIVE, which stands for Minnesota’s Discovery, Research and InnoVation Economy. Under MnDRIVE, the state has allocated $18 million in recurring funds for university research endeavors. With these funds, MnDRIVE sponsors what are known as Advanced Transdisciplinary Partnerships and aligns the university’s research expertise with some of our state’s economically significant industries.

In MnDRIVE these important areas of focus are grouped as: robotics, sensors and advanced manufacturing; global food ventures; advancing industry, conserving our environment; and discoveries and treatments for brain conditions. Our research, combined with industry, help provide an infrastructure and knowledge to tackle global issues through local partnership.

An apt metaphor to describe what is going on in the interplay between the university, the state government and industry is to think of it as a “triple helix.” It is a dynamic relationship, much as the way the ingredients of DNA bind together, between the entrepreneurial U of M, business and industry partners, and government entities.

Another tactic to nurture the next generation of Minnesota industries is the university’s “collaboratorium”—a place at the university where academia and industry work together for the purpose of commercializing research and generating jobs. Still another approach we are taking is to create a central hub for economic development at the university to provide strategic direction and leadership for our economic development activities and to make it easier for our community partners to access university knowledge and talent system-wide.

The university is already a powerful economic engine for the state, creating $8.6 billion in total economic impact annually. In addition, from 2006 to 2011, discoveries and inventions by the university delivered an additional $390 million to the state through patents, licensing, royalties and spin-off companies.

But that’s not enough in these difficult economic times when Minnesotans are struggling and our college grads face uncertainty in the workforce. With MN-IP, MnDRIVE, the collaboratorium and our increased and streamlined economic activities serving as potent catalysts, the university is “open for business.” Joined with industry and nurtured by state government, together we can make a huge difference economically for our state.

Originally published on Business @ the U of M.