Ian McClure, associate vice president for research, innovation, and economic impact for UK Innovate

In April of this year, the University of Kentucky created UK Innovate, an innovation, entrepreneurship and economic enterprise for UK Research. The plan is to move university research into the world faster through industry partnerships, social innovation and economic development initiatives.

Louisville Future spoke with Ian McClure, who is the associate vice president for research, innovation and economic impact for UK Innovate, about how the initiative came to be and its plans.

How did UK Innovate come about?

McClure: For the last four years, I was the executive director of our Office of Technology Commercialization at UK, which is where we manage all of our intellectual property and licensing startup for companies that spin out commercially. 

We went above benchmark levels in almost every metric of the office: patents filed, licenses done, startup companies developed, inventions disclosed and so on. At the same time, UK Research increased its research expenditures by almost 30%. So we set up a plan within UK to take advantage of this momentum by increasing our research and innovation capacity through new programs and new industry partnering efforts. We’re building three new areas within that.

What are those areas?

McClure: One is social innovation, which will be focused on social impact and social enterprise. We will build startup companies that may be nonprofit, but could be for-profit company where the mission is more [focused on] social impact and advocacy.

The next area is innovation and economic development. We’re putting a new team behind industry partnerships for research and innovation. We’ll build new collaborative research projects that align with the priority of industries in the state of Kentucky. For instance, we will forge partnerships for research in the metals industry and around advanced manufacturing for automotive and component parts for aerospace.

The third area we’re calling ‘innovation and entrepreneurship training.’ It’s a set of programs, people and resources dedicated to changing the mindset of our researchers toward product development and entrepreneurship. On top of that, we’re building a new UK Venture Fund, being one of the first universities to do something like that. This will be an alumni-led venture fund, and it will be a large injection of private capital to help fund the maturation of some of the best technologies that will come out of these new programs.

How did you prepare for UK Innovate?

McClure: We did some benchmarking. We looked at a few universities that were at our levels of tech transfer, commercialization and innovation work that had already made the leap to building additional capacity and a larger umbrella for innovation programs. The University of Florida, for example, launched Innovate about two years ago. Michigan State did the same thing with the MSU Innovation Center. We’re following their lead when rolling out this program.

What are your immediate plans?

McClure: Our first step will be to hire the best talent we can find. We’ll be filling six or seven positions to build out those new areas. Then, we’ll develop relationships with both faculty internally and people in the industries in which we’ll be working. We want to make sure those relationships are solidified.

Your program will be based at UK but extend for industries across the state, correct?

McClure: Yes. We take our land grants mission pretty seriously. As such, we have to support sister institutions and communities across the whole state. We have satellite offices in 120 counties in Kentucky. The economic viability of the state is important to us.

Some people in our state might not have the same level of confidence as we do. That’s because they haven’t dug into some of the data like we have. However, I believe that, as the federal government looks closely at who could be the next regional technology hub, Kentucky is a viable candidate. We’re preparing for that.

It’s all about return on investment (ROI). It would be an enormous ROI. Whereas, if you put a billion dollars into Boston, then you might not get a huge ROI. However, if you put a billion dollars in the state of Kentucky, then you could get a huge bang for your buck.