NASHVILLE (AP) — Tennessee ranks eighth in the country for the volume of federal grants its university research centers receive, but those dollars are not paying off in terms of new products, companies and jobs.
The Tennessean reports statistics from the Kauffman Foundation show the state ranks 41st in the number of jobs created from research dollars.
But several programs around the state are trying to make sure that promising ideas don’t languish for lack of money and resources to develop them.
The newest is an initiative by the state-funded Tennessee Technology Development Corp. called Launch Tennessee, which is expected to be mostly in place by September.
Corporation President and CEO Brad Smith said the goal of the program is to “connect capital with technology and entrepreneurs.”
Smith said Tennessee’s top research institutions are on board, including Vanderbilt University, Oak Ridge National Laboratories, the University of Tennessee Research Foundation and St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.
Vanderbilt already has its own Center for Technology Transfer and Commercialization that patents discoveries and pushes for their commercial use, said Alan Bentley, assistant vice chancellor for technology transfer.
Last year, Vanderbilt registered an all-time high 167 new inventions and obtained 31 U.S. patents. That’s up from 27 in 2001 and just seven in 1991.
And those patents have translated into revenue. The school received more than $9.2 million in 2011 from all outstanding licenses of its inventions — up from $1.7 million in 2001 and $137,000 in 1991.
But Bentley said it is sometimes difficult to get companies interested in risky but promising concepts.
Gregory Reed, associate vice chancellor for research at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, said the state needs more incubators on campuses, where novel concepts can take baby steps.
“We don’t have sufficient facilities in this state to help get new companies operating,” Reed said. “We need space to help them start generating revenue … and even start the first level of manufacturing. But we don’t have those.”
Venture capitalist Vic Gatto said he sees the state’s low level of commercialization as an opportunity. Gatto set up a company in Oak Ridge to take the raw technology being developed in the labs there and create for-profit companies.
“We have the scientists in the labs, so we’re halfway there,” Gatto said. “We just need to get the commercialization piece in place.”