In conjunction with President Obama’s signing of the America Invents Act today – legislation that will streamline the patent process and foster economic development – the University of Nebraska is highlighting its key efforts in innovation and entrepreneurship that are helping to build a more competitive economy for Nebraska.

The America Invents Act is the first comprehensive patent reform bill since the 1950s. It makes America’s patent system consistent with other nations in the global marketplace and has important implications for university researchers who want to move inventions into the marketplace.

NU has made significant strides in the last few years to provide innovation and entrepreneurial opportunities to students and faculty, enhance technology transfer, facilitate new university-industry collaborations on all four campuses, and recognize entrepreneurial excellence. The university’s efforts are aligned with goals outlined in an April 2011 letter from the National Advisory Council on Innovation and Entrepreneurship to then-U.S. Secretary of Commerce Gary Locke. NU President James B. Milliken, University of Nebraska-Lincoln Chancellor Harvey Perlman and University of Nebraska Medical Center Chancellor Harold Maurer were among the university signatories to the letter.

Among the leading NU initiatives is Nebraska Innovation Campus, a public-private business development that will house university and private R&D facilities focused on the areas of food, fuel and water. Milliken said, “Innovation Campus will be an important hub for collaboration between the university and the private sector. It will offer an environment that spurs innovation and business development, creates new jobs and brings new solutions to the marketplace.” This year, the State of Nebraska invested $25 million in Innovation Campus to jump-start development at the 200-acre campus in Lincoln. Those funds have been leveraged into $80 million in development. Consultants have estimated that ultimately, Innovation Campus could grow Nebraska’s annual payroll by $267 million.

Earlier this year, Milliken announced the appointment of a senior associate for innovation and economic competitiveness to lead NU’s diverse initiatives in technology development. James Linder, M.D., whose experience bridges academia and the business world, now leads the University Technology Development Corporation, which oversees NU’s four technology organizations: UNeMed, NUtech Ventures, the Peter Kiewit Institute Technology Development Corp. and the Nebraska Innovation Campus Development Corp. In addition to setting policy for technology development, UTDC provides development grants and is establishing an Entrepreneur in Residence program at each campus to provide business expertise to bring technologies invented by university faculty to the marketplace. "Linking the ideas of our faculty with the experiences of private sector professionals is a strong formula to unleash innovation happening in the University,” Linder said.

One example of university-business partnerships that are leveraging faculty expertise to create innovation in Nebraska is a recent licensing agreement between NUtech Ventures and Bayer CropScience AG. The agreement made $2 million available for an endowed professorship at UNL – now held by P. Stephen Baenziger, renowned wheat breeder – and also supports university research and education programs and plans for Bayer CropScience to establish its first North American wheat breeding station near Lincoln.

Opportunities for Students

All three of the university’s undergraduate campuses have active student entrepreneurship organizations designed to foster entrepreneurship and encourage collaboration between students and the business community:
  • Students at the Jeffrey S. Raikes School of Computer Science and Management at UNL work with business advisors and mentors whose companies range from small start-ups to Fortune 100 corporations – including AT&T, Boeing, PayPal, Google, Microsoft and others. Many Raikes students end up finding careers in those companies or starting their own business.
  • The Engler Agribusiness Entrepreneurship Program nurtures entrepreneurship potential in students who want a career in agri-business through courses, entrepreneurship training camps, internships and a venture capital fund to support student start-up businesses.
  • Combat Boots to Cowboy Boots at the Nebraska College of Technical Agriculture in Curtis helps military personnel, veterans and their families to become farmers, ranchers and entrepreneurs. Combat Boots to Cowboy Boots utilizes existing federal programs to match participants with farmers, ranchers and entrepreneurs and create business succession plans. NCTA also has programs to help students own their own farm or cattle ranch.
  • UNO’s Center for Innovation, Entrepreneurship and Franchising provides students with business fundamentals, opportunities through the Big Idea Elevator Pitch and other business plan competitions, and experience running a student-owned business.
  • A new course developed by UNL Mechanical Engineering Professor Shane Farritor, an entrepreneur and inventor, teaches students how to link engineering and invention with entrepreneurial and business skills. Farritor’s own research has generated two startup companies: Virtual Incision innovative robotic surgery tools and MRail engineering solutions to improve railroad track safety.
  • University of Nebraska 4-H educators pioneered EntrepreneurShip Investigation, a nationally recognized, interactive curriculum to develop entrepreneurial thinking and skills in youth, ages 10-19. The curriculum gives students the skills and tools to start a business in their own community.
Education and outreach
  • The annual Nebraska Summit on Entrepreneurship draws hundreds of participants from education, government and business who spend the day networking and hearing from experts and fellow entrepreneurs. The Nebraska Entrepreneur website serves as an online resource for aspiring entrepreneurs in the state.
  • NU recognizes exemplary efforts in student, faculty and business innovation through several university-wide awards:
    • The Innovation, Development and Engagement Award recognizes faculty who work with citizens, businesses, government, non-profit organizations, other educational institutions, communities or regions to develop new ideas, projects, technologies, events or businesses that strengthen the region or community.
    • The Walter Scott Entrepreneurial Business Award recognizes businesses with a presence in Nebraska that create partnerships with the university in the area of technology.
  • The Peter Kiewit Student Entrepreneurial Award honors students for the creative and innovative use of information technology.
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