About three times each week, an enterprising researcher at theUniversity of Maryland, College Park, takes a step toward patenting an invention. Each year, that results in the creation of about five new high-tech firms, the kinds of businesses often credited with creating good jobs.
That's a good start, but the school's goal is to double that rate in the next few years. With a small but smartly focused investment by the state, we can get there — and all Marylanders can benefit.
Gov.Martin O'Malley's proposed Maryland Innovation Initiative offers a significant advance to our state's tech-based economic development. It commits $6 million to boost commercialization of university research and creates incentives for statewide collaborations that will strengthen our high-tech sector. Additionally, through tax credits, InvestMaryland will raise $70 million to replenish the state's venture capital fund. This gives vital support to start-up firms.
These initiatives recognize that Maryland can do much more with its impressive research power.
Three major research universities — University of Maryland, College Park (UMD); University of Maryland, Baltimore(UMB); and the Johns Hopkins University — along with several dozen federal labs and billions of dollars in funded research give Maryland a distinct edge in creating new high-tech jobs. But we must get much better at converting these assets into new products and businesses to power our knowledge-based economy.
Across industries and between institutions, we need improved coordination and collaboration, suffused by an ethos of innovation and entrepreneurship. A phased increase in resources and a unity of purpose will improve our state's technology transfer and commercialization.
The availability of more small, targeted grants will help entrepreneurial academic researchers demonstrate their work's potential and cross the so-called "valley of death" — from patenting a great idea to successfully selling a new product or process.
Nurturing start-ups requires an "ecosystem" that includes research universities and their pool of human capital; federal funding for basic research, the seed corn of commercial innovation; partnerships among academic, federal and industry labs; physical facilities, business planning and intellectual property services; and access to public and private venture financing.
Take the case of Flex-El Inc., a Maryland start-up that is developing innovative, ultra-thin batteries attractive to industry and the military, and recently hired about a dozen new workers.
Its technology began in a UMD lab. It was nurtured in our Maryland Technology Enterprise Institute (Mtech) incubator, the region's oldest. The Maryland Proof of Concept Alliance — a partnership with theU.S. ArmyResearch Laboratory — will likely provide the technology's first buyer.
Over the past 25 years, Mtech has accounted for $25 billion in business for the state by incubating new companies and helping old ones innovate. Our Dingman Center for Entrepreneurship provides business services and access to private venture capital. It has helped more than 20 companies launch, including several by our students.
Together, UMD and UMB generate more than $1 billion in research each year. Additional resources — such as the Maryland Innovation Initiative and InvestMaryland — are necessary but not sufficient.
We need to expand our partnerships with government, business and other academic institutions. Our new Maryland Cybersecurity Center, for example, partners with about a dozen businesses to promote commercialization. Our Joint Quantum Institute does fundamental research with the National Institute of Standards and Technology that might someday lead to commercially viable quantum computing.
UMB and UMD have complementary research strengths. Under the aegis of the University System of Maryland, we are establishing a strategic alliance so that we can magnify the scale and impact of our education, research and commercialization.
In College Park, we need to nurture a culture of innovation and entrepreneurship institution-wide. We have established ourselves as a top public research university; we also must become a premier innovation and entrepreneurship university.
We are developing a new Maryland Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship to coordinate the campus' multiple educational, research and commercialization programs. We will incentivize faculty and students in all fields to engage in innovation as well as research. Our goal is to equip every student with knowledge and skills to develop innovative solutions that create economic and social value.
Our greatest knowledge transfer occurs every June, when we award degrees to some 7,000 graduates, the skilled workforce of the future. In the long run, they will make the greatest contribution to innovation and job creation.
With new resources and collaboration, plus an intensified culture of innovation and entrepreneurship, Maryland can transform its amazing educational and research assets into a turbo-charged economic engine.
Wallace Loh is president of the University of Maryland, College Park. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org.