Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Innovista: Economic Engine for the Midlands and the State

By Lauren Edwards, Programs and Communications Manager, Innovista
The most common questions asked of the staff at Innovista today is, What exactly is Innovista? or What is  Innovista doing now? The answers to those questions look a bit different from 4 years ago, but with a mission that has remained about job creation. In a nutshell, Innovista is connecting the University of South Carolina and university-spawned innovations with entrepreneurs and businesses. Our purpose is to attract, create and grow technology-intensive, knowledge-based companies, which will generate higher paying jobs and raise the standard of living in the Midlands and the state.
So what exactly is Innovista? If you have seen the latest economic study by the Darla Moore School of Business, then you know that USC pumps $4.1 billion into the state’s economy every year.  If USC is an economic engine for the state, then Innovista is the front door to the university for businesses and industry to connect. We are the front door in 3 ways: We act as the physical front door to the 500 acres in downtown Columbia called the Innovation District where vibrant entertainment and restaurant venues intermingle with cutting-edge research buildings; we also provide a one-stop-shop or single point of contact for industry to navigate the sometimes complicated maze of university resources; and lastly, we help move innovative research and commercial technologies out of the front door of our university into the marketplace.
The physical landscape of Innovista is reflected in the current research facilities such as Horizon I, Discovery I, and the Public Health Research Center. The USC SCRA Innovation Center, the USC Columbia Technology Incubator, and the IT-oLogy technology building add to a growing Innovista facilities portfolio that allows us to cultivate USC startup companies and continue to attract high-tech firms to this region. The landscape of Innovista continues to evolve with the construction of the new Darla Moore School of Business at the corner of Assembly and Greene streets. The internationally ranked business school and will provide the gateway to the Innovation District. And with the completion of IdeaLabs, commercial wet lab space available for lease on the first floor of the Horizon I research building, companies can take advantage of the proximity to USC faculty and their cutting edge research in clean energy on the floors right above. 
Innovista is connecting business and industry to USC. If you have ever tried to navigate through an organization of more than 30,000 people, you know it can be confusing and time consuming. In order to improve the quality, frequency, and number of business and university relationships, we have to make it easier for businesses to connect with USC assets and do it at the speed of business.  The recent announcement of Nephron Pharmaceuticals giving $30 million to USC to establish the Kennedy Pharmacy Innovation Center and then the additional investment of $300 million to build a manufacturing plant in the Midlands is a prime example of this. Not only will Nephron Pharmaceutical’s investment create opportunities for students to learn about entrepreneurship and spur the creation of start-up companies, but the construction of a manufacturing plant also brings more than 700 jobs to this region.
So what is Innovista doing now? Innovista is still all about jobs. Whether that is attracting companies from outside the state that wish to connect with USC’s  faculty expertise and ongoing innovative research, or creating companies right here at home by helping USC faculty or students start companies and move research from the lab to the marketplace, Innovista is about job creation. Our USC Columbia Technology Incubator has 45 startup companies located within its walls, and last year 2 of these companies surpassed the $2 million mark in sales. Since its inception, the Incubator has graduated 31 companies with an average salary of more than $63,000 per year. We are helping USC faculty understand the ins and outs of starting businesses through our entrepreneurship boot camps and creating a Center for Entrepreneurial and Technological Innovation (CETI) to be housed within the Incubator that will connect startup companies to the resources they need to be successful.
We have heard many people in this community and across the state say that they had no idea the many different fields of expertise or the caliber of research going on here at USC. Most have probably heard of our Moore School’s #1 ranking for 14 consecutive years for undergraduate international business and #2 ranking overall, for its graduate IB program. But did you know that our Electrical Engineering department ranks 7th nationally for program quality and 6th in faculty research productivity, and ranked #1 in the South in both areas? The department’s research activity outpaces the likes of Duke, UVA, Johns Hopkins, Vanderbilt, Texas A&M, GA Tech, and even Clemson. Our Nuclear Engineering program ranked in the top 10 nationally for faculty research and productivity, and our Mechanical and Chemical Engineering programs rank 4th and 6th, respectively, for faculty research in the South. Likewise, our Exercise Science doctoral program is ranked No. 3 in the nation in kinesiology and exercise science, and our Geography doctoral program is ranked 2nd in the South and 10th nationally. Many other departments have achieved national rankings like these, and as one of only 63 public universities to be classified by the Carnegie Foundation in the highest tier of research institutions in the country, the caliber of faculty at USC is only getting better and more productive. At Innovista, we have a duty to help spur this research productivity from the labs into the marketplace and to help connect industry to USC faculty whose research can add value to their businesses. In the past 5 years, more than 30 companies have been formed based upon USC research and 70 technologies have been licensed from the university.
But we can’t forget that this is a team effort and we wouldn’t be as successful without the help of the USC SCRA Innovation Center, USC Columbia Technology Incubator, Midlands Technical College Enterprise Campus and Business Accelerator, IT-oLogy, EngenuitySC, and others that support our mission. Most university research parks share a history that includes a decade or more of challenges prior to gaining traction and realizing their full potential or impact. In similar fashion, Innovista has experienced starts and stops and a couple of bumps and bruises along the way, but we are gaining momentum and showing signs of a transformation to a knowledge-based economy. As other research parks before us have learned, this transformation is a marathon, not a sprint…but we are happy to report that Innovista is picking up speed in the marathon!

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