Case Studies: University Research and Economic Development

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Case Studies: University Research and Economic Development

There is strong evidence of major local economic impact thanks to four universities in smaller markets: the University of Utah, Purdue University in Indiana, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and North Carolina State University. Included are these universities' research, incubation, and commercialization efforts.

An older study from Arizona State University generally supports the hypothesis that the commercialization of university research has positive effects on the local community around the university. However, that study comes with the caveat that such commercialization has the most positive effects in industries where knowledge isn't easily transferable and requires proximity to university personnel or resources. Biotechnolgies are their most prominent example. Also provided, is a list from the Milken Institute of the most notable examples of this phenomenon among US universities. Their list includes several schools in larger markets, like Columbia University and Stanford, but the focus is of the schools on the list that operate in smaller markets. There are four examples of universities contributing to their local economies through industry partnerships, startup incubation, and product licensing.


The University of Utah ranked #1 on Milken's list thanks to its "tremendous culture of innovation and entrepreneurship." Utah's Technology & Venture Commercialization Office launched 69 startups between 2012 and 2015 and has launched almost 300 total over its lifetime. The university attracted $417.2 million in research spending in 2015.

On campus, the University of Utah maintains a network of innovation-focused centers including the TVC and other offices for industry partnership and product licensing and commercialization. TVC success stories include: Anesta, a university startup that developed a breakthrough treatment for cancer pain product called Actiq and Sentrx Surgical, Inc., which was launched in 2004 "to develop commercial products based on biocompatible hyaluronic acid (HA) hydrogels that mimic the extracellular matrix (ECM). In 2005, major VC investments in human medical device field of use resulted in the subsequent emergence of three separate companies: Carbylan Biosurgery, Glycosan Biosystems, and Sentrx Animal Care".


Ranked 12 on Milken's list, Purdue is home to the Foundry, a "world-class example of an entrepreneurial ecosystem." The Foundry is Purdue's hub for entrepreneurship and commercialization of university research projects and has launched more than 50 startups since its opening in 2013. Purdue also partners, through the Foundry, with the Purdue Research Park, whose businesses brought in $1.4 billion in revenue in fiscal year 2014. The Research Park is home to a laundry list of businesses, including HP, Dow AgroSciences, and more. The Foundry was named Incubator Network of the Year in 2014.


UIUC came in at #18 on Milken's list. The University has licensable technologies in several different fields and, in terms of encouraging businesses to stimulate the local economy, waives licensing fees for companies who want to produce or develop those products in Illinois.

U of I also has an on-campus Research Park that houses over 110 companies and more than 2,000 employees, in addition to 50 startups using commercialized university technology. Over half of Research Park startups stay in the state of Illinois once they're up and running -- those startups have raised over $800 million since the Research Park opened in 2003. In 2015, Research Park businesses accounted for almost $170 million of economic output and over $80 million in wages.


NC State rounded out Milken's top 25. The university is home to the Office of Technology Commercialization & New Ventures, which helped launch 15 startups in 2017 alone (it's launched over 125 in its lifetime). Through these activities, NC State has created more than 3,500 jobs in its community, forming partnerships to commercialize 150 products and launching 70 companies based on university-owned products.

NC State is also part of the Research Triangle, "one of the smartest areas in the country." Research Triangle Park, with which NC State partners, is home to huge companies like IBM, Cisco, GSK, and more than 250 others.


Through their commercialization of university research, universities like the University of Utah, Purdue University, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, and North Carolina State University have boosted their local economies. These schools help create jobs, launch startups, and bring manufacturing and development to their states and their communities.

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