This month we are featuring the Entrepreneurial Faculty Ambassadors (EFA), a new peer-to-peer mentoring network that is cultivating a culture of entrepreneurship at WSU, and collaborating with local communities to increase regional economic development.
Launched in December, the EFA hosted their first event in Pullman last week. The event featured Lewis Lee, co-founder and CEO of Lee & Hayes, a law firm specializing in intellectual property (IP) counseling, portfolio development, and commercialization. Faculty and students from across disciplines came together with local business people and entrepreneurs to engage in a dynamic conversation about intellectual property.
“The speaker was excellent,” said WSU chemistry professor Aurora Clark, “Lewis conveyed commercialization as a creative process that researchers can relate to and get excited about.”
Learning the impact of intellectual property
Lee discussed how important intellectual property (IP) has become in a business world increasingly driven by the value of ideas. Public universities have also experienced an increase in the value of IP over the past decade. As federal funding has decreased, research grants have become more competitive and the agencies that administer them are more interested in seeing a tangible return on investment. In addition, many companies have shrinking R&D departments, meaning the private sector is looking to universities more than ever to continue innovating and developing new technologies. As a land-grant university, WSU also has a particular charge to develop innovation that helps local industries, develops a talented workforce, and contributes to economic development, a mission that commercialization contributes to in many ways.
WSU has a long history of commercialization, and the university’s Office of Commercialization has ramped up those efforts in the past five years. To keep building on that momentum, the EFA was created to help faculty better understand the process, and encourage collaboration between disciplines that leads to innovation.
Encouraging interdisciplinary conversation for innovation
The event last week attracted faculty and students from business to veterinary medicine. Clark was glad to see the range. As the director of the materials science and engineering program, she strongly values and encourages working across disciplines. Clark herself has seen the benefits of working across disciplines from her recent research, which applies the fundamental ideas of computer science to chemistry to predict the results of chemical reactions.
“Bringing elements of different subjects together and leveraging each other’s knowledge is what leads to truly transformative innovation,” Clark said.
Collaborating with local community for regional economic development
In addition to researchers from a variety of backgrounds, the event also drew local entrepreneurs, small businesses, economic development officials, and attorneys. The EFA collaborates with the Crimson Commerce Club (C3) and other economic development groups to expand the entrepreneurial ecosystem beyond the walls of the university.
“It was great to see WSU administrators and faculty in the same room as heavy hitters from the city and economic development groups,” said Velle Kolde, a WSU professor and co-founder of C3. “It is a glimpse of how we can work together to support WSU’s efforts to commercialize, and develop new job and economic opportunities in Pullman.”
Velle and his wife Judy started C3 to help build an entrepreneurial ecosystem in the Palouse. The former Microsoft employees also own The Armory where last week’s event was held, a building they have renovated to include retail space, apartments, and a business incubator for C3.
“WSU is a powerhouse of innovation that can lead to strong businesses and workforce,” Velle said. “But to keep those businesses and jobs in the Palouse, we need more resources here.”
Entrepreneurial faculty are one thing, but if they don’t have space available to start their businesses or access to a quality workforce, they will not stay in the Palouse. The same goes for any community members looking to start a business. The Kolde’s started C3 to help address those needs, and are collaborating with WSU, the city, and local economic development groups to truly make the Palouse an innovation hub.
With an ambassador at each WSU campus, EFA will continue collaborating with business communities, local governments and economic development groups across the state to increase WSU’s impact, and strengthen Washington’s entrepreneurial ecosystem.