Last week, the Iowa Innovation Corporation was invited to a White House briefing about innovation.
This wasn’t a random ask. It was a briefing that included all the i6 Challenge grant winners since 2010, which in itself is an exclusive club. In two years, there have been only 12 grants presented to organizations that accelerate technology commercialization, new venture formation, job creation, and economic growth across the United States. Our efforts, in partnership with the technologies coming from Iowa State University, have created a model that can be replicated not only statewide but nationally, which is the primary reason we were awarded the grant.
Ultimately, the i6 Challenge grant allowed the state to address one of the greatest challenges in economic development -- technology transfer. There are many great ideas being developed at the state’s universities but they generally have lacked a process to determine proof of concept, as well as proof of commercial relevance. Because of this, it has made it more difficult than necessary to pair these developing technologies with interested companies.
So how do we move the good ideas into bankable ventures?
That is a question some of the brightest business minds in the state tackled. It has been clear for a number of years that economic growth must occur from within. The traditional economic model – attract and retain new businesses with large incentive packages – still plays a role, but there are drawbacks. By encouraging growth from within by supporting and providing the connections that entrepreneurs, startups or businesses with high growth potential, we can create both jobs as well as the talent pool necessary to support the industries already established within the state.
With this in mind, Iowa’s business leaders spent the last decade focused on a creating a model that assists in both proof of concept and proof commercial relevance. The result: the Iowa Integrated Innovation and Commercialization Network (IIICN). The IIICN serves as a review panel to score, rank and provide written feedback to the applicants and to the funding entity. The process and resulting database is designed to ensure continued consideration for future funding of viable projects that meet milestones and seek to advance both the concept and the resulting companies. Vetted projects are able to fast track their assistance with business processes, product development, investment opportunities, technology transfer opportunities along with services and data that support the innovation economy, all through the IIICN.
When the application process for the i6 Challenge grants were announced, we had the model in place, and Iowa State University was developing the technologies. We were ready. After a competitive process, it was announced we had received one of six $1 million grants to deliver the Iowa State technologies to Iowa companies using the IIICN.
At the White House briefing, we were asked to talk about the lessons we’ve learned in the past year. It’s simple: the process is working. Expectations were that it would take us the full two years to distribute the funds, but we accomplished that goal in one year. In addition, three Iowa companies and three Iowa State researchers have received Proof of Concept funding and three Iowa companies have received Proof of Commercial Relevance funding. It is also anticipated that two of the ISU projects will receive Proof of Commercial Relevance funding and their intention is to create their own companies.
This is just the start. We are making it possible to actively engage in effective, efficient tech transfer. This is demonstrated by our ongoing work to match our universities technologies with Iowa businesses that may be potential customers. We do this through a number of “pitch and grow” opportunities called Partnerships for Growth that include periodic webinars and networking events. The process is efficient. The technologies are presented quickly and in layman’s terms. Then, if a company is interested in learning more, we make the introductions.
This is where the PDI membership comes in. As a local developer, you have a better understanding of the needs of the businesses in your region. Your participation in our Partnership for Growth events ensures we are reaching the broadest audience possible. Your feedback will also help us better shape these events moving forward.
The i6 Challenge grant is just one of our responsibilities as the state’s innovation intermediary. We are currently partnering with other organizations to provide similar information, as well as manage the programming that will only enhance the infrastructure and talent needed to support the continued growth of our state’s economy. Our distribution list is ever growing, so please let us know if you would like to be included on our mailing lists by contacting Karen Merrick at 515.421.4039 or Karen.Merrick@IowaInnovationCorporation.com.