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Business incubators tap university talent

Across the U.S., research and technology parks are playing a role in job creation and driving economic growth. These business incubators for emerging companies, typically in the science, healthcare and technology fields, are often affiliated with universities, which are prime sources for new ideas and fresh talent in need of a place to grow.

The Purdue Research Park Network, for instance, provides an annual economic impact of $1.3 billion to Indiana's economy and is responsible for creating more than 4,000 high-tech jobs paying an average annual salary of $63,000 -- which is 65% higher than the Indiana average, according to data from a recent economic impact study.

Another example is the University of Nebraska Technology Park, which makes an estimated $590 million annual impact on the Nebraska economy, according to a study by the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Bureau of Business Research.

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"Research and science parks help grow local, high-tech companies while attracting new ones to the region," said Harold Strong Jr., president of the Association of University Research Parks. "These parks are impacting their communities in a big way -- with high-wage jobs."

In Ames, Iowa, just south of the Iowa State University campus, the ISU Research Park is doing its part to foster innovation, commercialization and economic growth in the region. Founded in 1986, Iowa State University Research Park (ISURP) has grown from a plot of land across from the university to a 230-acre development with more than 350,000 square feet of building space. ISURP, which operates independently as a not-for-profit corporation, today has 60 tenants with 800 on-site employees.

"The research park was created as a cooperative effort between the state, the university and the community, recognizing that with all the scientific work being done at the university, there was an opportunity for the state and the community to diversify and grow their economy by capturing, locally, some of the value of the innovation being generated at the university and nearby federal labs," says Steve Carter, director of ISURP.

In addition to providing business suites and lab space, ISURP offers resources such as grant assistance and entrepreneurial guidance to startups. Over time, as ISURP has grown as a research park, so too, has the number of business resources available to the scientists and technologists who are working to commercialize their ideas. The work being done at ISURP has attracted investors, lawyers, management personnel and marketing people to the region, for instance. "As we have grown, that environment has also grown," Carter says.

For the tenants, which include entrepreneurs, small businesses and satellite offices of larger companies, part of the appeal of ISURP is gaining access to university talent and resources. ISURP can connect tenants with ISU faculty and cutting-edge facilities and equipment, and the university provides a steady stream of students and graduates for recruiting. [Also see: "Computer science grads fielding 'multiple job offers'"]

"As they start to look at moving from a lab and an idea to an application and a product, we start connecting them with the resources they need," Carter says of the typical ISURP tenant.

ISURP spends a lot of time developing and maintaining connections in the investment community as well as with management, marketing and legal professionals. It saves the tenants time and effort, Carter says, so that "they can focus on what they need to be focusing on, which is moving the science ahead."

One of ISURP's biggest success stories is Engineering Animation Inc. (EAI), which grew from a bootstrapped startup in 1989 to a public company with more than $100 million in revenue before being acquired. Six of the people who built EAI are today a part of the leadership team at WebFilings, which offers a cloud-based system for financial reporting. A core part of WebFilings' business, including its development team, works out of ISURP. "They're here largely because they knew that there was a pool of talent that they could access," Carter says.

The experience of the EAI team shows the kind of symbiotic relationships that ISURP hopes to foster. Though EAI was relocated from Ames after being acquired, its founders came back and are creating new opportunities for local talent. "It's the kind of thing that a research park like ours has been able to build our success around," Carter says.

The talent pool can be equally attractive to larger companies such as Vermeer Corporation, which recently opened an off-site office at ISURP, in part to help with the recruiting of Iowa State students.

"As we talk to large, established companies, many of them in the agricultural and life sciences area that are out competing on the coasts for talent, we find that a place like Ames does offer distinct advantages in their ability to compete for talent and attract the right kinds of people," Carter says.

Ann Bednarz covers IT careers, outsourcing and Internet culture for Network World. Follow Ann on Twitter @annbednarz and check out her blog, Occupational Hazards. Her email address is abednarz@nww.com.

Read more about infrastructure management in Network World's Infrastructure Management section.


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