Roles and Relationships

The Auburn Research and Technology Foundation (ARTF) and the Innovation and Entrepreneurship Ecosystem at Auburn University

The question of the role of research at universities and why it matters was addressed in a Forbes article which I found interesting that helps to convey the Auburn Research and Technology Foundation (ARTF) role within Auburn University. The article begins with the question of why universities are engaged in the conduct of research. Stating: Universities engage in research as part of their missions around learning and discovery. This, in turn, contributes directly and indirectly to their primary mission of teaching. It goes without saying that the advancement of knowledge (discovery, innovation, creation) is essential to any civilization. Our nation’s research universities represent some of the most concentrated communities of scholars, facilities, and collective expertise engaged in these activities. But more importantly, this is where higher education is delivered, where students develop breadth and depth of knowledge in foundational and advanced subjects, and where students are educated, trained, and otherwise prepared for successful careers.

Who benefits? The article noted: The community, region, and state benefits from the research activity of the university. This is especially true for public research universities. Research also contributes directly to economic development, clinical, commercial, and business opportunities. Resources brought into the university through grants and contracts support faculty, staff, and student salaries, often adding additional jobs, contributing directly to the tax base. Research universities, through their expertise, reputation, and facilities, can attract new businesses into their communities or states. They can also launch and incubate startup companies, or license and sell their technologies to other companies. Research universities often host meetings and conferences which creates revenue for local hotels, restaurants, event centers, and more.

Nationally, driving U.S. competitiveness through improved university-industry partnerships is viewed as one of the most important elements of a national innovation system as noted in a report from the Association of Public & Land-Grant Universities. In years past, research collaborations with universities have been difficult, but collaborations can speed discovery and its application to important societal problems as experienced during COVID-19.

To that point of view and to eliminate barriers for partnerships/collaborations, the organizational structure operating under the Office of the Vice President for Research and Economic Development was revised in 2021 to bring additional value of all academic research programs at the university to the economy. The purpose, vision and mission of three units being ARTF, External Engagement and Support (EES), and the Intellectual Property Exchange (IPX) were tied together to create a centralized, streamlined and proactive framework for advancing and commercializing university technology. The three units include the following:

  • The Office of External Engagement and Support operates under the direction of the Vice President for Research and Economic Development. EES facilitates relationships with private and public sector partners, as well as those with philanthropic interests in the research enterprise with the overarching goal of advancing Auburn innovation, promoting industry relations and providing support for the knowledge-based sectors of state and regional economy.

  • The Intellectual Property Exchange serves as the link between the commercial marketplace and Auburn University faculty. IPX offers Auburn researchers expertise and guidance regarding the protection of intellectual property, including patents and copyrights, and in seeking licensing agreements with commercial entities to take Auburn research developments into the marketplace for the public benefit.

  • The Auburn Research and Technology Foundation supports Auburn University and its Office of the Vice President for Research and Economic Development by developing new contracts and partnerships, translating applied research into commercialized opportunities and new business ventures, and providing an entrepreneurial business environment. Operations of the Auburn Research Park are managed by ARTF.

The roles and relationships within these three units were created to improve the technology experience at Auburn University through partnerships and collaborations, expanding the innovation ecosystem at The Park (Auburn Research Park), and strengthening entrepreneurial development in the community to create new companies and jobs. We are now building a brand around this entire framework to market and distinguish ourselves better all under the strength of Auburn University.

And finally, why does this all matter?

The Forbes article I mentioned earlier, concluded with the following:

Research is essential to advancing society, strengthening the economy, driving innovation, and addressing the vexing and challenging problems we face as a people, place, and planet. It’s through research, scholarship, and discovery that we learn about our history and ourselves, understand the present context in which we live, and plan for and secure our future.

Today, we are doing the things that matter for research at Auburn University by creating an environment where researchers, students and entrepreneurs can connect on a range of technology topics; master planning the research park for future expansion anchored by the flagship of Auburn University with open access to the Auburn community; and developing partnerships and relationships to steward Auburn University research into commercialization/new start-up opportunities.

I would encourage you to read about the success in the Converge Newsletter which depicts the people and programs who make all this happen.

Thank you, Bill

Bill Dean, a veteran research park and financial executive with more than three decades of experience in developing innovative ideas for research parks, life science parks and biotech incubators, serves as the executive director of the Auburn Research and Technology Foundation (ARTF). Dean is a past president of the Association of University Research Parks, former director of both Cummings Research Park in Huntsville, Alabama (the nation’s second largest research park), and the biotech-focused, Piedmont Triad Research Park (Innovation Quarter) in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, and was the first chairman of the North Carolina Research Parks Network.