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PUBLICATIONS Inside Illinois Vol. 21, No. 15, March 7, 2002

Meeting reviews university's economic development activities

By Sharita Forrest, Assistant Editor
(217) 244-1072; slforres@illinois.edu

Although the university is entering the second phase of construction of the South Research Park, the university is lagging behind some of its Big Ten peers in economic development activities, UI officials said at a Feb. 26 town meeting.

About 40 people turned out at the meeting in Gregory Hall to learn about the university’s economic development activities, including expansion of the South Research Park, management of intellectual property and policies regarding faculty involvement in startup companies.

In fiscal year 2001, the UI generated $7.4 million in royalty revenue, about half what it should have generated in comparison to its Big Ten peers, said Paul Bohn, interim vice chancellor for research.

However, administrators expect to reap significantly more licensing revenue during fiscal year 2002, Bohn said.

"It is in our institutional self-interest to help faculty members move their ideas to the marketplace," Bohn said.

Most of the UI’s 2001 licensing revenue was generated by two or three companies, Bohn said.

To help commercialize technologies being generated by UI faculty, the Office of Technology Management (OTM) has been restructured.

The university worked with the consulting firm of Deloitte and Touche to eliminate a portfolio of 736 backlogged projects during 2001. The backlog had accrued in part because OTM staff lacked the expertise to quickly assess the market viability of some new technology disclosures, Bohn said.

Of the 736 backlogged projects, the university is aggressively pursuing commercialization of approximately 150, said Mike Fritz, director of OTM.

OTM also has created a portfolio of external consultants who can provide expert initial assessments so that OTM can determine whether to pursue development of a disclosure or release it to the faculty member.

OTM’s goal is a seven- to eight-week turnaround time, by which time the projects are either slated for development under OTM’s management or returned to faculty members, Fritz said.

To better handle the workload, OTM’s staffing has been increased from seven full-time-equivalents a year ago to 17 FTEs and six part-time workers, Fritz said.

The office also has identified a coterie of venture capitalists and entrepreneurs who are eager to work with faculty members on technology development and marketing, Fritz said.

In response to an audience member’s question about policies governing faculty involvement in startup companies, Bohn said that a peer-review committee is assigned to oversee each company and the activities of the faculty member involved.

The Conflict Review Committee, an advisory group to the vice chancellor for research, may approve time off for faculty members involved in startups, said Melanie Loots, associate vice chancellor for research.

However, such absences are usually for set time periods and usually are coupled with leaves of absence, Loots said.

According to the university’s policy on conflict of commitment, the university may approve release time of the equivalent of up to one day per week for full-time faculty (40 days per academic-year appointment and 52 days per calendar-year appointment).

However, release time is not automatically granted and must be approved by the executive officer of the departmental unit, Loots said in a phone interview after the meeting.

In the department of electrical and computer engineering, which generates the most activity for OTM, there are 18 startup companies in existence, Loots said. Campuswide, approximately 40 startups are either in existence or close to inception.

In response to an audience member’s question, Bohn said that the number of faculty members involved in startup companies is much less than 1 percent.

The UI is proceeding with development of the South Research Park. The UI will probably break ground on the fifth building in the park during March, marking the beginning of Phase Two of the park’s construction, according to John Parks, director of the research park.

Thus far, three buildings comprising 128,000 square feet have been completed.

The UI broke ground for the fourth building, a technology incubator, in November 2001. The incubator facility will lease office and/or lab space to startup companies and is slated for completion in November 2002, Parks said.

The incubator facility will be approximately 60,000 to 65,000 square feet and will be located west of First Street and south of Hazelwood Drive.

According to the 10-year development agreement, the developers, Fox-Atkins, must construct a minimum of 40,000 square feet per year and must have at least 20,000 square feet available for new tenants at all times.


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