Virginia Introduces Statewide Innovation Partnership with U.S. Department of Commerce

By Morgan Estabrook
UVA Today

The University of Virginia will participate in a new statewide network designed to accelerate innovation and economic growth.

One of only seven multi-institution initiatives to win federal funding as part of the U.S. Department of Commerce’s i6 Challenge in 2012, the Virginia Innovation Partnership will bring together universities, community colleges, corporations, investment capital and
other resources to drive promising research discoveries forward.

The Virginia Innovation Partnership is unique in the U.S. because it creates a network that links talent, ideas and capital together across an entire state. The approach is designed to be scalable to other states, thus providing the foundation for the resurgence of real value creation in America that creates jobs and economic growth. If successful, this new partnership could mark a watershed moment for the turnaround of the U.S. economy, returning the nation to its roots and re-claiming global leadership in invention and entrepreneurship.

“It’s critically important to translate the breakthrough research advances happening in academic institutions to society,” U.Va. President Teresa A. Sullivan said. “We are pleased to lead this unique effort, which leverages the strengths of many partners throughout the commonwealth to identify and support solutions that will improve our economy and our quality of life.”

Rebecca M. Blank, acting U.S. Secretary of Commerce, announced the Virginia Innovation Partnership as an i6 grant recipient at a ceremony held this morning in the Rotunda.

“This $1 million investment for Virginia announced today is an example of the Obama administration’s commitment to driving U.S.
innovation and competitiveness in the decade ahead,” Blank said today. “The Department of Commerce’s i6 Challenge is designed to encourage Americans who want to take risks with game-changing ideas, speed their innovations to marketplace, and thereby empower the next generation of job creators that are so essential for an economy that is built to last.”

The Virginia Innovation Partnership will receive $1 million in federal funding over two years as part of the i6 Challenge, with additional matching funds provided by corporate participants, university partners and other entities. Current partners are George Mason University, Hampton University, Mountain Empire Community College, New River Community College, Norfolk State University, Northern Virginia Community College, Old Dominion University, Piedmont Virginia Community College, Radford University, Tidewater Community College, the University of Richmond, the University of Virginia, the University of Virginia’s College at Wise, Virginia Commonwealth University and Virginia Tech, plus corporate and government partners.

The partnership seeks to create a sustainable growth model that will allow innovative projects created at the state’s universities and colleges to be developed into new prototypes and businesses.

“This Virginia i6 partnership is the first in the nation to truly span an entire state, connecting all our talent and ideas,” said Thomas
C. Skalak, U.Va.’s vice president for research and principal investigator on the i6 grant. “We believe this first-in-class network of collaboration can be replicated in every state, creating a renaissance of the American innovation economy and securing our nation’s economic future.”

“The Virginia Innovation Partnership and U.Va. are doing important work to modernize and implement commercialization best practices within the partnership’s member universities,” U.S. Senator Mark R. Warner (D-Va.) said. “This grant will allow the Virginia Innovation Partnership to scale-up an initiative that is already generating a 7-to-1 return on an initial $7 million investment. I am pleased to congratulate them on winning one of just six Innovation Challenge awards. In a fiscal environment where we must find ways to do more with less, we need to continue thinking outside the box to get the most out of federally-funded R&D investments.”

The Virginia Innovation Partnership will expand on U.Va.’s ongoing success with translational research programs that have produced over 7-to-1 returns in follow-on funding, particularly the Wallace H. Coulter Translational Research Partnership.

Based on the innovative model established by the Coulter program, thepartnership will invest $800,000 in proof-of-concept projects each year. Following a statewide call for proposals, an experienced review board will select the most promising projects for funding. All project teams will receive expert feedback and mentoring.

Former U.S. Chief Technology Officer Aneesh Chopra will chair an advisory group.

“The i6 award is incredible validation of the great work already under way at U.Va. and the partner organizations committed to a new
level of collaboration that will grow Virginia’s economy statewide,” said Chopra, currently senior advisor on health care technology strategy for The Advisory Board Company. “I am excited to join a team that will birth the jobs and industries of our future.”

Each year, the partnership will fund 20 projects at the $40,000 to $80,000 level, with the expectation of attracting significant follow-on
funding and forming new Virginia companies.

“A dynamic, innovation-based economy is essential if Virginia wants to compete for 21st-century jobs,” said Mark A. Herzog, a senior vice president at Richmond-based Health Diagnostic Laboratory Inc., a participant in the Virginia Innovation Partnership. “This partnership will accelerate the commercialization of innovative research, enhance access to early stage proof-of-concept funding, connect entrepreneurs with mentorship networks and rapidly expand start-ups in Virginia’s burgeoning IT and bioscience industries.”

In addition to strategic investments, the Virginia Innovation Partnership will provide project teams with a rich network of mentors to
assist them in developing new businesses around their discoveries. Based on U.Va.’s Venture Forwardbusiness mentoring program, the network will include business, finance, investment, legal, subject-area and other experts with ties to each of the partner institutions.

The partnership will also hold an annual venture capital event for project teams, modeled upon U.Va.’s Venture Summit, which annually convenes national investors representing $10 billion in venture capital.

“Virginia continues to demonstrate that it has the infrastructure, talent and innovative ideas in place to continue to be a national leader in economic development,” Virginia Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R) said.
“The Virginia Innovative Partnership brings ideas and ventures that are born every day in our world-class colleges and universities to market faster, creating jobs and opportunities in all parts of the state.”

This new partnership will draw on the strengths of the University’s efforts in innovation and entrepreneurship.

“As universities are stepping up to create value around their research and innovation pipeline, the ability to achieve proof-of-concept is a critical step in moving innovation from the lab to the market,” said W. Mark Crowell, executive director of U.Va. Innovation
and associate vice president for research. “The Virginia Innovation Partnership initiative will help leverage expertise and resources across many partners to advance Virginia’s innovation capacity.”

Projects are expected to compete in biotechnology, information technology, energy production and conservation, environmental technology and sustainability, high-performance manufacturing, bioengineering and medical devices, nanotechnology, modeling and simulations, health care and biosciences, microelectronics, security and safety, architectural and other design-oriented fields and information assurance.

Launched in 2010, the i6 Challenge “supports truly innovative initiatives to spur innovation commercialization, entrepreneurship and
jobs creation at the local level.” Administered by the U.S. Commerce Department Economic Development Administration’s Office of Innovation and Entrepreneurship, the competition will award up to $1 million to the winning proposals throughout the U.S. in 2012.