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Accelerating Innovation: The Nanotechnology Institute
Volume 8, Issue 3

Anthony P. Green, Erli Chen, Kambiz Pourrezaei, Michele Marcolongo, and Robert W. Carpick

Revolutionary and high impact technologies are no longer being developed by private industry in the U.S. to the extent they were forty years ago. An ever-increasing number of these advances now arise from early discoveries supported through federal funding. Universities, research institutions, and federal laboratories are a critical spawning ground for these innovations. Yet the process by which they reach the marketplace, adding value to the economy through investment, company formation, and job creation, is severely and unnecessarily hampered by decades-old and obsolete policies throughout the technology development process, as well as a lack of strategic investment that could significantly boost their success. This is particularly problematic in new technology areas such as nanotechnology, where global competitiveness hinges crucially on gaining early technological footholds. The Nanotechnology Institute (NTI) is a novel example of an innovation ecosystem that has succeeded in removing these barriers to enable and accelerate the commercialization of university re-search in nanotechnology. Created in 2000, the NTI’s founders recognized that overcoming these barriers to innovation and entrepreneurship in the twenty-first century requires completely new thinking and new structures. The NTI addresses this challenge by uniquely combining the following key elements: (1) a core public investment of funds carefully managed by a leadership team that integrates faculty, economic development experts, and university technology transfer officials at the same administrative level; (2) multi-university participation through a novel, comprehensive IP-pooling and revenue-sharing strategy; (3) strategically-targeted grants to universities and loans to small businesses that promote faculty-industry collaboration and prioritize university IP with commercial potential; (4) strong emphasis on interdisciplinarity, regional strengths, and high quality research; (5) recruitment of commercialization experts in oversight and program review, and solicitation of university technology transfer professionals in prioritizing projects to fund; and (6) extensive outreach, networking, information sharing, and marketing efforts. These coordinated activities are generating tangible outcomes at an accelerating pace: In the past three years the number of new IP assets, technology licenses, and new company spinoffs has exceeded all activities in the previous seven years. This has led to the establishment of new organizations modeled on the NTI program. Most importantly, these activities are now being reflected in real economic impact for the region in terms of job growth. This reflects not only the maturation of nanotechnology in general, but the success of the NTI model in particular.

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