Obtaining more research funds has always been a point of emphasis for the University of Alabama at Birmingham, but turning those dollars into commercial success and economic development opportunities is quickly becoming more of a focus for the school.
Last year, the school experienced an uptick in funding from the National Institutes of Health that broke a 12-year decline, but university officials say a better job can be done leveraging those research dollars to gain investments, licensing agreements and to spin off new companies.
That job falls to the Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, which was rebranded from the UAB Research Foundation in 2013 and has since formed a strategy to improve its own metrics.
From fiscal years 2011 to 2013, income for the UAB Research Foundation fell 34 percent from $6.6 million to $4.3 million, according to surveys conducted by the Association of University Technology Managers. Expenses fell from $503 million to $443 million during the same time period.
The Foundation produced five startups in 2011 and two more in 2012 and 2013.
Kathy Nugent, managing partner of the institute, said those numbers were compiled before the rebranding and that a new strategy has been formed to attract more outside investors.
"We do very well in research dollars, but when we we looked at the wealth of knowledge across our campus from the health side all the way over to the arts side, we also have a lot of innovation," Nugent said. "Especially with our research engine, we’ve got to leverage that better in terms of commercialization."
Nugent said an external fund has been launched that aims to actively seek strategic investments. Another part of the strategy will focus on improving campus collaboration.
Partnerships with Southern Research and the Alabama Drug Discovery Alliance will also be valuable assets, Nugent said.
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"We’ve got to come to work every day and be thinking about how we are going to go find things that have commercial opportunity and get that from the prototype stage to the marketplace," she said. "That’s either through licensing or startup companies, and that’s the two paths we want to be able to take. If we want something global and bigger to leverage this research engine, we need more. We’ve got to be able to engage the campus, and we’ve created processes to improve campus collaboration that links the business school with engineers and engineers with future physicians and so on."