Fertile Ground

March 14, 2011
Fertile Ground

The Baylor Research and Innovation Collaborative offers Baylor's research efforts a place to grow. But what exactly goes on in a research park?

When Dr. Truell Hyde, MS '80, PhD '88, accepted the position of Baylor's vice provost for research in 2001, he was immediately charged with the goal of helping the university realize the Baylor 2012 vision of becoming a top-tier American university with a strong Christian mission.

One fact immediately became clear to Hyde: "You can no longer teach at a world-class level without integrating research into the mix, especially in the STEM [science, technology, engineering and mathematics] disciplines," he says. "Research turns the crank of students -- theoretical or experimental. When Baylor students are working with Baylor faculty, they know they're doing something no one else in the world is doing."

That kind of research will find new room to grow at the Baylor Research and Innovation Collaborative (BRIC), the first -- and cornerstone -- facility of a 21-acre discovery park that will evolve into the Central Texas Technology and Research Park as tenants populate the park over the next few decades. Housed in the old General Tire & Rubber Co. building on I-35, the BRIC will provide researchers, organizations and private companies -- particularly hi-tech startup businesses -- with not only 300,000 square feet of physical space for labs, research centers, workforce training and academic meetings, but an environment that "allows us to translate those research efforts into an impact on the community and even mankind," adds Hyde.

The seeds of the concept, the growth of an industry

When the BRIC opens its doors, Baylor will enter the ranks of some 175 universities in the U.S. that have research parks -- a trend that began in 1951 with the Stanford Research Park in Silicon Valley and burgeoned in the 1990s with the technology boom. The basic concept: attract university researchers and private companies in the knowledge industry to a single location to foster the exchange of pioneering ideas and provide the workforce and tools for applying cutting-edge research in the real world with the resulting benefit of economic prosperity for the region.

While the core concept remains the same, today's university research parks are not your grandfather's research parks, which primarily took shape as real-estate deals with the goal of attracting big business. Technology plays an even larger role in the development of today's typical park, often viewed as an "innovation cluster" or "Technopolis" for entrepreneurial startup companies.

The Tucson, Ariz.-based Association of University Research Parks (AURP), of which Baylor is a member, today defines a research park as "a property-based venture that master-plans property designed for research and commercialization; creates partnerships with universities and research institutions; encourages the growth of new companies; translates technology; and drives technology-led economic development."

Tomorrow's parks continue to evolve with live-work-play models that include on-site amenities such as restaurants, retailers and housing, sprouting whole communities. Even half-century-old parks such as The Research Triangle Park near Raleigh-Durham, N.C. -- the largest park in the country -- are repositioning themselves for the future, broadening their tenant base beyond the big brass-plate corporations and even considering retail and residential development.

But most any researcher will tell you that university parks are less about physical property and more about intellectual property, or less about turf and more about talent, with a focus on developing homegrown expertise that allows for the translation, application and even commercialization of research innovations. And this is where they're succeeding.

According to a recent survey of 134 North American university research parks conducted by Columbus, Ohio-based Battelle Technology Partner Practice in cooperation with AURP, nearly 800 firms graduated from park incubators in the five-year period from 2002 to 2007, with about 25 percent of them remaining in the park and a failure rate of only 13 percent. And with the passing of the America COMPETES (Creating Opportunities to Meaningfully Promote Excellence in Technology, Education, and Science) Reauthorization Act of 2010 in the House of Representatives, university research parks are poised to get an even bigger boost with federal grants and loans to construct and develop strategies for innovation clusters.

"It's important that universities have research parks because they're a method by which universities can work with industry and companies and help create innovation," says Eileen Walker, chief executive officer of AURP, who, early in the BRIC's planning stages, worked with leaders at Baylor on the process of building a park. "Baylor has all of the elements of a successful park, especially good governance through strong leadership at the university and in the community. [These leaders] are extremely willing and enthusiastic about working with private industry, and they've already been successful in taking the project from the conceptual phases to beginning to repurpose the [BRIC] building in a short period of time."

The park less traveled

But just as Baylor is not your typical university, the BRIC is not your typical university research park; in fact, it is not, in a strict sense, a "research park" at all, but rather a "discovery park," notes Hyde.

"We're not traveling the exact same path of other universities," he explains. "No successful institution competes only against regional institutions anymore. Baylor is now competing against universities around the nation and the world."

And the fact that a discovery park is a brand-new endeavor for Baylor actually works to its advantage, Hyde adds.

"Baylor is young enough in the research game to explore new things, while many other universities are too entrenched to be as nimble as they need to be," he says. "One thing important to note is that [the park] won't be suddenly of great impact over the next five to 10 years. It takes a long time to provide such a large-scale impact -- better measured in decades than in years."

But if you were to compare Baylor's park with another university, the Discovery Park at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Ind., is a model park, notes Hyde. Celebrating its 10th anniversary this year, Purdue's park is a successful $500-million research center for interdisciplinary research focused in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics disciplines.

"Research parks are the new paradigm for universities; today's complex issues -- alternative energy, healthcare delivery and water quality, for example -- are grand issues that require research from a variety of disciplines," says Dr. Alan Rebar, executive director of Discovery Park and senior associate vice president for research at Purdue. "At Discovery Park, we've created a place where faculty from many disciplines and backgrounds can work on developments of whole new areas of science that occur at the interface of disciplines.

"At the same time, we've set up a remarkable learning environment to train and educate students as they would tackle problems in the real world," says Rebar. "It's a 'Disneyland' for faculty [members]; they can do research together that they only imagined doing alone."

Faculty and student researchers at Discovery Park at Purdue work with about 100 companies each year, including students working through internships and at startup companies, and have developed 22 global partnerships. Current research projects include everything from developing biofuels to cancer treatments to software that helps Homeland Security respond to calamities. And while the commercialization of research is not the goal of Discovery Park, which puts academics front and center, says Rebar, commercialization can be a good thing if it helps make research advances accessible to people to better society.

"If there's been a knock on university research historically, it's been that it's too basic," says Rebar. "Innovative, interdisciplinary approaches to research are critical to our future."

A meeting of the minds

While the BRIC will serve as a nexus for faculty and students in the STEM disciplines, students from other disciplines, including those in the Hankamer School of Business and School of Law, will also benefit from the interdisciplinary research and potential commercialization of products expected to spin out of the BRIC -- commercialization that can bring economic benefits to a university and, moreover, public benefits to help humankind.

Case in point: Take the story of Gatorade and the University of Florida. In the mid-1960s, an assistant football coach asked the university's director of the College of Medicine's renal and electrolyte division why his football players lost so much weight during practice and games. Researching the effects of heat on the human body, the director and his team of researchers discovered how the loss of electrolytes wreaks havoc on the body's chemical balance and, in 1966, developed a solution in the form of a sports drink that the world now knows as Gatorade. Since 1973, the invention has brought the University of Florida more than $80 million in royalties -- money that has been used to fund research projects in a variety of disciplines. And more important, Gatorade has helped countless athletes prevent heat stress and heat stroke and has been used by the medical community to treat conditions associated with extreme dehydration -- thus, saving lives.

Albeit an exceptional success story, this is the kind of magic that many researchers and entrepreneurs believe can happen when people from diverse backgrounds work together in a single melting pot, galvanized by a mix of talent with the potential to blaze new trails in research.

"Critical thinking informs creativity, and these skills aren't the exclusive domain of people in certain majors," says Dr. Elizabeth Davis, BBA '84, Baylor's executive vice president and provost. "BRIC will give students the broader perspective required for innovation that can solve our country's biggest problems and help get those solutions to the people who need those benefits.

"With that supply chain all in one location, students can see how ideas are generated from inception and converted into products on the market," says Davis. "And they can explore their own gifts and where they fit into the development cycle."

And students aren't the only beneficiaries of such collaborations, of course. Faculty in university research parks are often in better positions to benefit from not only peer-reviewed grants and contracts, which are the gold standard in the academic world, but funding generated by business partners located in the BRIC, adds Hyde.

"Companies understand that they need R&D to stay competitive, and it's much more cost-effective for them to partner with a university with the infrastructure to support that," he says. "The city of Waco has a great location, great cost of living, great transportation and great infrastructure, yet Austin and the Dallas/Ft. Worth area are the hi-tech hubs. Until now, the Waco Chamber of Commerce has been hamstrung because companies look at Waco and say, 'Where's my hi-tech research lab space? Where's my trained workforce?'"

The answer to the latter question is where Texas State Technical College (TSTC) at Waco, a major partner that will occupy 45,000 square feet dedicated to technical training in the BRIC, comes into play.

"One of the missions of BRIC is to help provide a trained workforce for emerging technologies to the state of Texas, and that's where we're complementary," says Dr. Elton Stuckly, president of TSTC-Waco, which offers more than 100 technical associate degrees and has more than 30,000 graduates working in locations in Texas and across the country. "When companies come in, they have TSTC technicians to take care of equipment, and students have an opportunity to work, perform internships and be placed in those companies. Also, faculty members have the opportunity to stay engaged in working with industry."

As the famous line goes, if you build it, they will come. But companies are not only expected to come to the BRIC; they're expected to be born out of the research conducted there, says Hyde.

"The economic impact by taking research out of the lab and starting a new business can be large," he says. "Startup businesses are notorious for high failure rates -- they're often very good on the research end but often not nearly as good on the business end -- and that's a big reason why the School of Business will have a presence in the BRIC, offering a 'one-stop shop' for business -- providing business plans, marketing plans and everything in between -- to help companies through the 'Valley of Death.'"

Research park payoffs

While the BRIC will not turn Waco into a hi-tech mecca like Austin overnight, the discovery park signals a significant shift in that direction, says Dr. M. Ray Perryman, BS '74, founder and president of the Waco-based economic and financial analysis firm The Perryman Group. In May 2008, Perryman's firm conducted an analysis of the potential economic impact of the park on business activity in the Waco-McLennan County area and Texas.

"The [discovery park] will serve as a catalyst for the area's expansion, creating a synergy that can help move technology, ideas and research from the lab to the local economy," says Perryman. "It's a way to leverage Baylor's research and activities and use an asset [the General Tire building] that our community has had for years.

"An initiative of this sort will take a long time to develop, but it will have an impact that lasts far beyond anyone's tenure in the [current Baylor] administration," he continues. "It's a long-term project with huge local impact and payoffs that are really great."

Among the payoffs that Perryman noted in his published report are hundreds of high-paying white-collar jobs. Specifically, 378 new local jobs are expected to be created when the BRIC opens in 2012, along with another 24 elsewhere in the state of Texas, and an anticipated $24 million will be added to the annual gross product of the Waco-McLennan County economy. In the next decade-and-a-half, those numbers would jump to 8,618 permanent jobs and $774 million in annual gross product.

Those are the kind of projections that have the folks at the Greater Waco Chamber of Commerce (another partner in the project) excited about the area's financial future.

"Think about the whole idea of how we come out of the Great Recession; nobody is saying it's going to look the way it used to look," says James Vaughan Jr., president and chief executive officer of the Waco Chamber. "Jobs are going to be jobs that require greater skills and knowledge, and how America will compete is how Waco will compete. BRIC will be a driver for our economy as an incubator for collaborative research and new commercialization.

"Somebody at Baylor is going to have an idea that no one ever heard of or even dreamed of and figure out an application," adds Vaughan. "That idea could be 'the next big thing' that drives the local and national economies."

Putting money where the park is

With any research park, collaboration is key from the start, which explains why so many community leaders are coming together for this project.

"We've received support from the state of Texas and federal, county and city government; they put money on the table because they're excited about the long-term economic impact," says Hyde. Of the $32-million price tag for phase I of the BRIC, $9.5 million came from the state (from funding appropriated to TSTC), about $5.5 million from surrounding communities and about $17 million from Baylor's commitment.

"I don't usually use superlatives, but the response to BRIC has been overwhelming without exception to this day," says Hyde, adding that "what's exciting is there's been such a dramatic difference [in building of the BRIC] over such a short period of time."

And in between the hammers and drills sending signals of progress on the initial phase of Baylor's discovery park, you can virtually hear those cranks of Baylor students and faculty turning as they contemplate the future that's just waiting to be discovered.