A competition is heating up among cities seeking to attract more residents and more businesses by transforming themselves into tech and talent hubs. One of the main ways to do that is through local universities.
Louisville Future spoke with Kevin Gardner, Executive Vice President for Research and Innovation at UofL, about the work the school is doing to help make this happen.
How important are universities to a region’s ecosystem?
Gardner: Innovations and ideas from universities often serve as a backbone for economic development in a region. For example, in New Hampshire (where I just was), many companies moved to the area to co-locate with the nation’s premier ocean mapping research organization at UNH.
UofL is in the process of growing the way that we interact with regional companies and entrepreneurs. This has to be done intentionally; that is, it doesn’t automatically happen. You have to work at it and that’s what I’ve been spending my time doing since I got here.
What are your goals at UofL?
Gardner: Number one is to make sure that business and industry in the region know about the resources that are available at UofL. We’re really just starting this now, but we’ve hired a new director for industry partnerships who will connect people with what the University has to offer.
UofL is here to serve the citizens of the region, the citizens of the state. An important part of that is to be able to use the technology that we have, our research assets, to help local industries.
For example, we have a $30 million Micro/Nano Technology Center (MNTC), which is a cleanroom facility that supports a wide range of research initiated by faculty, academic institutions, start-ups, medium and large businesses around the country. Our Huson Imaging & Characterization laboratory contains a new scanning probe and an infrared thermal imaging microscope.
Companies that are developing new products or troubleshooting existing ones might not have a multi-million dollar machine to do that. We want to make sure businesses in this region know that we have that stuff for their use.
The other side of that is tech transfer or spinning out tech from UofL.
What are your goals for tech transfer?
Gardner: We are looking for an Entrepreneurship and Innovation Director who will focus on students and community-based entrepreneurship. That’s about helping students from all disciplines recognize the value of their ideas and how to get those ideas out into the marketplace, where they can actually influence the world.
We’re interviewing now for a person to oversee innovation in new ventures and to drive the technology transfer process. We’re looking at some real national leaders in this space.
The number of spin-out companies we’ve had and how many licenses that we’ve established for our technologies with companies every year shows how impactful the innovation enterprise is at UofL. It’s really robust. Last year, we had 80 invention disclosures, 350 research support agreements, 144 patent applications and 48 patents awarded.
Can you name a couple of spin-outs?
Gardner: Talaris Therapeutics is one. It’s a company that developed a single-dose cell therapy for producing immune tolerance for kidney transplant patients. The therapy enabled 70% of living donor kidney transplant (LDKT) recipients to discontinue all immunosuppressive drugs by 12 months after their kidney transplants.
Unitonomy is another. The company was established in 2019, and develops culture management software for employee engagement and inclusiveness.
What are you seeing so far?
Gardner: So far we’re seeing that the businesses or the organizations that represent businesses, whether that’s GLI or Louisville Forward or the different associations that we’ve engaged with, are really hankering for this connection. They’re so appreciative that we’re reaching out and letting them know that we’re here.