AUSTIN—Every day across The University of Texas System, students, faculty and researchers are puzzling out new ideas, inventions and innovations that have the potential to improve life, change society and cure the incurable.
But how can these fresh new approaches and discoveries make it from the incubator of the university campus to the marketplace and, ultimately, to the people who need them?
With a network of 14 institutions spread across the state of Texas, the UT System is in a distinctive position to make key connections and targeted investments, nurturing new ideas so they can realize their full potential. The UT System’s Office of Innovation and Strategic Investment does just that by building and activating networks that ensure UT inventors, entrepreneurs and discoveries are positioned for global impact.
“We help make innovation real,” said Julie Goonewardene, associate vice chancellor of innovation and strategic investment. “We invest in those groundbreaking ideas that have the potential to change lives, and we connect those on the frontline of discovery with industry leaders that can help them scale their discovery for true impact.”
Goonewardene presented her office’s strategic plan to the UT System Board of Regents Wednesday. Formerly the Office of Technology Commercialization, Goonewardene said the new designation of Innovation and Strategic Investment is a more accurate description of her team’s mission.
“We actually don’t do tech commercialization, but we do make investments and we design innovative projects that help UT campuses,” Goonewardene explained.
Those projects include a Mentor Network, currently being piloted with UT MD Anderson Cancer Center and UTHealth Houston, that is recruiting industry mentors to pair up with faculty entrepreneurs. The purpose of the pilot is to understand the resources needed to launch and manage the network and gauge the return on investment before expanding throughout the System.
Another new initiative has the Innovation and Strategic Investment team partnering with the technology company Digerati to deploy WorkFountain, a unique scalable platform that engages businesses and builds pathways for people to enter the workforce. The UT System version will be a Talent Matching Pilot designed to expand small and mid-size Texas businesses’ access to UT student talent, decreasing recruiting time and costs. While on the surface a very pragmatic program, there is also an academic component – the approach also will provide the opportunity to study unconscious bias in hiring, and the program is specifically designed to reduce that bias.
Ultimately, the Office of Innovation and Strategic Investment’s central goal is to leverage expertise, knowledge and relationships that will improve the odds of moving university-based innovations from labs to the marketplace. That happens through a variety of ways, including direct connections to investors, advisors and mentors and help in analyzing and utilizing market data to pilot potential solutions.
The team also makes its own investments through the UT Horizon Fund. Created in 2011 by the UT System Board of Regents, the $50 million fund is one of the leading university-sponsored strategic investment vehicles in the nation. The formative-stage venture fund provides capital and support to companies with tangible ties to one of UT System’s institutions. Returns from the fund are reinvested and used for future growth.
“The Office of Innovation and Strategic Investment is an excellent example of what we can and should do as a System,” said UT System Board of Regents Chairman Paul L. Foster. “We exist not only to serve the institutions, but to provide expertise and connections and to amplify the important work taking place on UT campuses.
“Innovation is the lifeblood of universities and I am proud that UT System is providing pathways to make sure the latest discoveries and freshest ideas have the opportunity to make an impact in the lives of people across the nation and around the world.”
Educating students, providing care for patients, conducting groundbreaking basic, applied and clinical research, and serving the needs of Texans and the nation for more than 130 years, The University of Texas System is one of the largest public university systems in the United States. With 14 institutions and an enrollment of more than 228,000, the UT System confers more than one-third of the state’s undergraduate degrees, educates almost two-thirds of the state’s health care professionals annually and accounts for almost 70 percent of all research funds awarded to public institutions in Texas. The UT System’s operating budget for FY 2017 is $17.9 billion, including $3 billion in sponsored programs funded by federal, state, local and private sources. With more than 20,000 faculty – including Nobel laureates and many members of the National Academies – and nearly 80,000 health care professionals, researchers, student advisors and support staff, the UT System is one of the largest employers in the state.