Cross Discusses Resources that Support Researchers
Every day, researchers at Tech are hard at work discovering new information and creating new devices. But what happens after the research is completed — and what impact does it have on the world around us?
“Georgia Tech has always had a focus on industry and economic development,” said Steve Cross, executive vice president for research. “We seek to grow our impact in ways that directly support the research enterprise and maximize the benefit Georgia Tech brings to our region, state, nation and the world.”
In part two of this Q&A, Cross elaborates on the resources that Tech has in place to help faculty, staff and students ensure that their research has an impact once the lab work is completed.
What is an Interdisciplinary Research Institute supposed to be, and how does it contribute?
An Interdisciplinary Research Institute (IRI) is a research organization that includes representation from across Tech and that administratively reports to me. Each IRI is led by a research-active faculty member who is a thought leader in a core research area and is committed to supporting those doing research in that area. Additionally, IRIs provide laboratory and shared administrative support, as well as new collaborative research opportunities, to faculty-led research centers and groups that elect to be affiliated with the IRI.
What has Tech done so far to advance the commercialization/startup process?
After the strategic plan was published, we created strategic initiatives to look at what we could do to move us closer to our vision. One of the efforts was to experiment with accelerated startup formations, and that resulted in the Georgia Tech Integrated Program for Startups (GT:IPS), where faculty members can license their intellectual property much more quickly to create a startup company. Another example is Flashpoint, a startup accelerator for our region. Tech also won a grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to be among a select group of universities to host the Innovation Corps (I-Corps) program. I-Corps is an accelerator for NSF grantees at universities around the country.
In the past, 16 or 17 companies were created annually with help from Tech. Just last year, Tech participated in projects that supported the formation of more than 100 new companies. They are not all based on Institute research, but with a combination of Flashpoint, I-Corps, GT:IPS and other activities already in place, we have increased the number of startup companies being formed in our region. We have also attracted venture capital from parts of the country that have never before invested in the Southeast.
Why is economic development so woven into the research strategy? Are we talking about that more than we used to?
The Institute was created to support economic development in the state of Georgia, and, today, research universities are recognized as key elements in regional innovation ecosystems, which are vital to economic development. In this regard, we have several competitive advantages at Tech, including our state-sponsored economic development functions in the Enterprise Innovation Institute (EI2). Additionally, the Advanced Technology Development Center — incidentally the first and largest university-based incubator in the country — is consistently rated as one of the top 10 facilitators of startup companies. We now seek to link each core research area to economic development opportunities, while increasing our industry sponsorship and opening new facilities like the Carbon Neutral Energy Solutions Building to directly support industry work.
It is also significant that our students are seeking more opportunities to engage in entrepreneurial activities. The InVenture Prize and Georgia Tech Research and Innovation Conference, in part, address this.
People are starting to use the term “innovation ecosystem.” How do you define that?
An ecosystem consists of many different organizations (companies, government entities, nonprofits, universities, etc.) each with different goals that are aligned to do something for the greater good. In this case, the greater good is to provide an environment in which innovation can thrive, while leading to successful commercialization activity and societal benefit in this region and beyond.
What progress has been made with regard to the innovation ecosystem?
Companies such as NCR, Panasonic, General Motors, Coca-Cola and AT&T are increasing their work with Tech as a direct result of our role in helping lead our regional innovation ecosystem. Other countries have taken note. The Republic of Korea has entered into an agreement with Tech to help incubate companies in Technology Square. Our Georgia Tech-Lorraine campus and its regional partners recently dedicated the Lafayette Institute to pursue the same kind of opportunities in Europe.
The Georgia Research Alliance (GRA) also plays a key role in our innovation ecosystem. GRA co-funds chairs through its Eminent Scholar Program. There are more than 75 Eminent Scholars across five universities in Georgia; more than half of them are at Georgia Tech. GRA also funds infrastructure for equipment and laboratories, supports our Georgia Tech-focused incubator (Venture Lab), and provides funding (via a competitive selection process) for startups from Georgia Tech research. GRA is a very important partner in our research strategy, and we are grateful for its ongoing support.
Five years from now, what successes are you hoping this initiative will produce?
Tech should have a more diversified sponsorship base and have doubled its level of industry-sponsored research. We should also have more facilities around the perimeter of campus where industry can work with us and engage with students. We will have an integrated industry relations team providing unparalleled service to our industry partners, and we’ll be regarded as one of the country’s most industry-friendly research universities. We will be recognized as the best in the world for use-inspired and translational research in our core research areas.
I’m confident that the strategic vision will become reality as long as we continue to develop a professional support structure to help faculty develop large proposals, access state-of-the-art facilities, complete the administrative requirements associated with many research contracts and move their research from the lab to the real-world.