Advancing research commercialization

State agencies work with UND, NDSU to advance intellectual property commercialization

Amy Whitney, left, director of UND’s Center for Innovation, and Cortnee Jensen, intellectual property commercialization development manager with the North Dakota Department of Commerce, are working together under the state’s new Intellectual Property Commercialization Initiative. Photo by Patrick C. Miller/UND Today.

A new agreement between UND, North Dakota State University, the North Dakota Department of Commerce and the Bank of North Dakota is helping North Dakota diversify its economy by tapping into the intellectual resources of the state’s research universities.

The Intellectual Property (IP) Commercialization Initiative went into effect early last month as a collaborative effort to align the needs of business with the research capabilities of UND and NDSU. The three-year initiative promotes economic diversification through the commercialization of IP, while helping the university system promote access to private funding in ways that expand and leverage research portfolios.

“The IP Initiative is a very unique partnership that will bring all of our universities’ amazing research together to promote economic growth across our state,” Commerce Commissioner Michelle Kommer said. “This is an exciting start toward innovative collaboration that will bring new ideas forward and increase our state’s capital.”

A new approach

The initiative is different from the state’s past approaches to research commercialization, said Amy Whitney, director of the UND Center for Innovation.

“We have four state agencies coming together intentionally to prioritize the work of commercialization and matching the intellectual talents from the private sector and the public sector – matching them for outcomes centered on economic diversification and opportunity,” she said. “That means growing job opportunities in North Dakota and, in doing so, attracting new people to the state.”

Under the IP Commercialization Initiative, North Dakota plans to use existing research projects at UND and NDSU to help diversify the state’s economy and create new jobs. Photo courtesy the Energy & Environmental Research Center.

Under the initiative, Cortnee Jensen serves as intellectual property commercialization development manager with the commerce department. She’s already working with Whitney through the Center for Innovation and NDSU to provide state resources and to make contacts and connections that keep projects moving ahead.

“The state recognizes that the place where we have the people with the ability to innovate is in higher education,” Jensen said. “We want to invest in giving research access to private funding, but we also want businesses to have access to the minds and the talents of our researchers.”

Whitney and Jensen cited an example of an energy-related technology company from outside the state that’s now considering coming to North Dakota for continued development and manufacturing of its products.

“It would be a first-to-market technology and true innovation within the energy sector if everything proves out through the research,” Whitney said. “We’ve been able to bring state resources together, along with our own intellectual talent and knowledge here at UND.”

Asking the right questions

The business owner was looking to go elsewhere when Jensen stepped in to determine if the right players were involved and the right questions were being asked.

“It’s something that happens all the time in business and industry,” she explained. “When you don’t ask the right questions and get the right answers, it’s very difficult to create a partnership – especially when business and research are, by nature, coming at the problem from different angles.”

Whitney found answers to the owner’s questions and created a partnership using UND’s resources.

“From there, that partnership went from testing to developing together,” Jensen said. “It is now being written into a true partnership where both entities will have a stake in the game. We get a new, innovative business in the state, and the market gets something it really needs. The business gets the research support, and the researchers get to work on developing technology that can lead to commercialization and income. It’s a win on all levels.”

The UND Center for Innovation is working with the North Dakota Department of Commerce, the Bank of North Dakota and NDSU to form partnerships with business aimed at research commercialization. Photo by Patrick C. Miller/UND Today.

The initiative enables state agencies to identify opportunities across the region for sponsored research partnerships. Selected entrepreneurs can then secure capital and subject-matter expertise from a collaborative effort among participating agencies. The Commerce Department promotes private funding by working closely with existing businesses, entrepreneurs and venture capital firms to promote economic growth by working with current North Dakota University System research projects.

Examples of available research disciplines include agriculture, biomedical research, business, coating and polymer science, computer science, education and engineering. Whitney sees additional opportunities in unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), autonomous systems, big data, health care and biotechnology.

“The interesting piece for this project is that we have the ability to recognize the collaboration or the connection and then bring together people from two different places,” she said. “We have the opportunity to help them see those connections and find those opportunities they didn’t know were there.”