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$50 Billion in Taxpayer Funded University Research and What’s to Show For It

August 5, 2010

Posted by: Mark Marich on July 27, 2010

A report from Science Progress this summer spotlights university research and presents “a model for cultivating new technologies and innovation ecosystems.”

The U.S. government spends about $50 billion of taxpayer money on university research where government owns unlimited rights to the intellectual property, but the taxpayer paying for the research owns nothing. Little is spent on maximizing the commercial potential of this research or paying back the taxpayer. The IMPACT (Innovation Model Program for Accelerating the Commercialization of Technologies) plan proposes a $20 million pilot program that “would invest a small amount of federal (taxpayer) funding to create rational experiments that test and demonstrate clear,replicable methodologies to bring existing research results into the U.S.commercial marketplace through ten local demonstration sites.” That means $2 million per year, per university, for five years to address the following problems:

A lack of funding to scale up and commercialize an idea,
A lack of business expertise to understand the next steps for commercialization
A lack of human capital to build start-up companies when appropriate, and
A lack of mentoring and educational support for new entrepreneurs.
Part of the plan is already a part of the Obama Administration’s National Science Foundation budget request as an additional $12 million for the Partnerships for Innovation Program for Fiscal Year 2011.

The plan envisions solutions that would, among other objectives. pair researchers with mentors and venture capitalists, educate faculty and students about business strategy, and create proof-of-concept funding with appropriate project management such as the ones created at the MIT Deshpande Center for Technological Innovation and the University of California, San Diego von Liebig Center. The article highlights findings from a Kauffman Foundation study showing that after granting less than $10 million to projects, these two centers helped advance 26 start-ups, which at the time of the report (Jan 2008) had raised a total of $160 million in outside investment.

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