STAC Releases 2009 Report and Recommendations, Urges Support for RI Research Alliance and Entrepreneurship Center
Published on January 28, 2009
Report asserts Rhode Island is well-positioned to benefit from Obama administration effort to direct federal resources to the development and deployment of critical new discoveries and technologies
Stating that strategic support of research and development must be embraced as an economic development priority in order to grow the Rhode Island economy, the Rhode Island Science and Technology Advisory Council (STAC) today presented Governor Donald L. Carcieri and the Rhode Island General Assembly with a set of recommendations calling for timely, targeted and transformative investments to support discovery and innovation and its transfer into the marketplace.
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STAC made three key recommendations. The first is renewal of the state‚??s $1.5 million investment in the Rhode Island Research Alliance. This investment will enable STAC to further develop the suite of Alliance programs to foster connectivity and a culture of collaboration. Funding will also meet the federal mandate for significant state support for science and technology and allow the state to continue its federal-state partnership and deploy the next phase of a $20 million five-year National Science Foundation grant.
The second recommendation focuses on the creation of an alliance to enable and strengthen business and innovation activities throughout Rhode Island. A key element of this would be the creation of a center that could support the development of an entrepreneurial community by providing a central location for early stage enterprise to access the collaboration, support and expertise they need to transfer ideas into successful enterprises.
The third recommendation encourages the state to expand the organizational capacity of STAC through renewal of its $100,000 investment in STAC in fiscal year 2010 and direct it to develop a model, which will fully align statewide programs and integrate activities to create a long-term sustainable structure that supports interaction and cooperation. This investment will also enable STAC to continue to implement current initiatives and develop new ones.
STAC‚??s recommendations are posited upon the belief that research and the technological innovation it produces are essential to building a strong economy, creating new companies, spawning entire new industries and generating high quality jobs in the state.
Because Rhode Island‚??s leaders have made significant investments in science and technology over the past three years, STAC believes the state is now well-positioned to benefit from the Obama administration‚??s initiative to direct federal resources to the development and deployment of critical new discoveries and technologies in energy, health, climate change, national security, information technology and manufacturing capacity.
‚??An aggressive science and technology policy agenda for our state is imperative," said Governor Donald L. Carcieri. "We must continue to invest in the building blocks of innovation by increasing basic research funding, building our capacity for transferring discoveries into the marketplace and developing a highly skilled workforce. Pursuit of this agenda will allow for further opportunities to attract federal funding to complement state funding and drive economic growth."
STAC has been working to foster the collaboration and connectivity among research institutes that is needed in order to support the technology innovation sector growth.
"The state's research and development community has never been more closely connected and we are yielding strong results in building new alliances between our state's colleges and universities," said Clyde Briant, Vice President of Research at Brown University. "Our focus is to foster and transfer discoveries that will create new companies and increase jobs and wealth throughout our state economy."
The 2009 STAC Report urges Rhode Island to capitalize upon our progress by implementing three priority recommendations:
1. Continue the transformation of Rhode Island‚??s science and technology enterprise to improve the quality of life for our citizens
In 2006, the National Science Foundation awarded Rhode Island a three-year $6.75 million Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR) grant to help build the state's research infrastructure and to develop statewide programs for student training and outreach. The creation of the Rhode Island Research Alliance and the annual infusion of $1.5 million in support of Rhode Island‚??s researchers fulfill a state match obligation mandated by the federal grant to demonstrate a state‚??s commitment to science and technology.
Through this federal-state partnership, Rhode Island has made major strides in strengthening its statewide research platform. Increased research capacity creates the new knowledge that makes possible product breakthroughs from lasers to MRI equipment to GPS systems, improving overall the quality of life for our citizens. State funding has complemented these activities. Through the Rhode Island Research Alliance, the state has built connections that increase our competitiveness for funding, lead to commercialization of products and engage and train students.
One of the first programs initiated by the Alliance was the Collaborative Research Awards. These grants expand the state‚??s research infrastructure by funding projects that promote inter-organizational, multi-disciplinary collaboration that is positioned to attract follow-on funding from sources such as federal agencies, corporations and foundations. Awards also support clinical trials and the purchase of state-of-the-art instruments that give research teams throughout the state access to the most sophisticated technologies available to conduct their experiments and train students. Since its inception, the program has attracted 140 proposals requesting more than $22 million in funding from Rhode Island investigators at public and private research institutions throughout higher education, medicine, government and industry. Proof of the catalytic nature of the program has been demonstrated by receipt of $1.6 million in follow-on funding by out-of-state sources and clinical trials that are bringing products from medical devices to chemical and computer imaging technology closer to the marketplace.
Research Alliance funding also supports related activities such as the annual Statewide Research Symposium which brings researchers from the COBRE, INBRE and EPSCoR networks together to share emerging opportunities. Funding also supports the Collaborative Web Portal. Developed in conjunction with the state EPSCoR office, the portal is a one-stop-shop where researchers, entrepreneurs and community leaders can learn about R&D in Rhode Island, register for events, apply for programs and access a searchable database of research equipment and shared facilities. The portal also provides EPSCoR researchers with streamlined access to online reporting and evaluation tools.
Rhode Island is currently applying for renewal of its NSF EPSCoR Research Infrastructure Improvement grant. The new grant is for up to $20 million over five years and once again requires a state match. The grant-funded programs will build on the success of our first grant and includes every one of Rhode Island‚??s eleven institutions of higher education as full partners as well as new institutional partners such as Lifespan and two state agencies: the Slater Technology Fund and the Department of Environmental Management. It will bring us into the worlds of next generation DNA sequencing and design research as an integral part of how we do science and how we communicate science to the public, to name just two of a number of important emphases. It will continue our outstanding human capital development and entrepreneurship programs and it will initiate new programs in bioengineering and bioinformatics.
STAC recommends that the state renew its $1.5 million investment in the Rhode Island Research Alliance. This investment will enable STAC to further develop the suite of Alliance programs to foster connectivity and a culture of collaboration. Funding will also meet the federal mandate for significant state support for science and technology and allow the state to continue its federal-state partnership and deploy the next phase of a $20 million five-year National Science Foundation grant.
2. Create an Alliance to enable and strengthen business and innovation activities throughout Rhode Island
Increasing new company creation by enabling entrepreneurship, innovation and the resulting growth of new ventures is key to creating a 21st century economy that provides higher wage jobs for all Rhode Islanders. Strengthening Providence‚??s entrepreneurial platform and creating a city and region that is friendly to innovation was identified by the Greater Providence Chamber of Commerce‚??s recent Knowledge-Based Economy study as critical if Rhode Island is to develop a more robust economy, talented workforce, brand identity and a deeper ‚??bench‚?Ě of civic leaders and funders upon which the region can depend.
While Rhode Island has enjoyed relative success in attracting federal research funding, it trails national averages in terms of commercializing its research. Moreover, start-up formation and small company growth remain well below the region‚??s potential, especially given the region‚??s strong research base. This situation indicates a need to expand opportunities to connect entrepreneurs from various start-ups and high growth companies and to foster the adaption of new technologies and innovative business solutions to existing mature companies.
STAC‚??s Innovation Tax Credit and the Slater-EPSCoR Fellows program are recent initiatives seeking to make Rhode Island an attractive place to recruit innovative companies and people to the region. We, however, need to do more to accelerate innovation and entrepreneurship.
A key element of expanding this activity would be the creation of a Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship that supports the development of an entrepreneurial community by providing a central location for early stage enterprise to access the collaboration, support and expertise they need to transfer ideas into successful enterprises. At the center, scientists, engineers and innovators would select from a wide range of programs that connect them with the resources they need to commercialize their concepts and build successful companies that will generate jobs, create wealth and accelerate the growth of new companies. The center would provide the physical focal point, the conceptual inspiration and networking opportunities that will bring key people together and create launch-pad conversations for new business initiatives. Such a center would help facilitate new entrepreneurial efforts by enhancing technology transfer that began at local institutions of higher education and research. This initiative would be a multi-institutional partnership that connects existing programs and makes it easier to identify and fill gaps where new programs and services are needed. Center programs would support the commercialization of new ideas and create an energetic, resource-rich environment for honing ideas, pursing personal growth and professional development and exploring innovative business opportunities.
STAC recommends that it work with public and private institutions in the state to strengthen the statewide innovation and entrepreneurship platform and to help create a statewide vision for the development of Rhode Island‚??s entrepreneurial community with the goal of attracting and retaining entrepreneurs in high priority industries, and bring greater visibility to the accomplishments of Rhode Island‚??s most successful entrepreneurs.
3. Strengthen the organizational capacity of STAC
Since its inception in 2006, STAC has proposed and implemented programs and policies that support the council‚??s mission to grow the Rhode Island economy through research, technology and innovation, including the creation of a URI Commission on Research and Innovation, implementation of an Innovation Tax Credit, launching of the Rhode Island Research Alliance and convening thought leaders to brief leadership on critical issues and methods other states are successfully utilizing. STAC is committed to continuing to play this vital role and to expanding its efforts to meet the historic challenges at hand.
STAC recommends that the state renew its $100,000 investment in STAC for FY10 and direct it to develop a model which will fully align statewide programs and integrate activities to create a long-term sustainable structure that supports interaction and cooperation. This investment will also enable STAC to continue to implement current initiatives and develop new ones.
‚??STAC‚??s 2009 recommendations will allow us build upon the support given to the state‚??s scientific research communities by the Governor and the General Assembly, which have helped to create a more cohesive and dynamic statewide research community as well as many more federal and private funding opportunities,‚?Ě said Jeff Seemann, Dean of the College of the Environment and Life Sciences, University of Rhode Island.
‚??We need to expand opportunities to connect entrepreneurs from various start-ups and high growth companies and foster the adaption of new technologies and innovative business solutions to existing mature companies, said J. Michael Saul, Interim Executive Director, Rhode Island Economic Development Corporation. "We also must increase R&D spending to improve the competitiveness of our Rhode Island information technology, pharmaceuticals and other manufacturing industries."
About the Rhode Island Science & Technology Advisory Council (STAC)
The Rhode Island Science & Technology Advisory Council (STAC) is a coalition of leaders in the field of science and technology representing business, medicine, higher education and government. STAC was formed in 2006 by the Governor and General Assembly and is charged with recommending to state leadership strategic investments that drive economic development and create jobs by maximizing the economic impact of research, technology and innovation. STAC policies and programs: 1) support the state‚??s research & development activity and promote collaboration across institutions; 2) encourage entrepreneurship and new company creation through the transfer of new technologies and discoveries into the marketplace; and 3) create an environment that enables innovation to flourish. STAC serves as the RI NSF EPSCoR Governing Committee. Its activities are funded by State and Federal grants and appropriations and support from private foundations.