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A Follow Up With Paau

Last year, we interviewed Vice Provost Alan Paau on his new job at Cornell and how he is working to reinvigorate Upstate's economy. The Chronicle is following this year with a nice story about how Paau's plans are playing out.

[Says Pauu]"We can probably make more cash if we license to more foreign companies, but is that the right thing to do in light of the regional needs? I not only want to take the results of our research and turn them into useful products and services for the public but also use them to help regional economic development."

Such a strategy still can pay off in the long run, he added, pointing to his nine years as assistant vice chancellor for technology transfer and intellectual property services at the University of California-San Diego. "When I was at UCSD the goal was never to make money," he reported, "but the program is now financially pretty rewarding."

So Paau has made CCTEC more business oriented, forging connections with local and regional companies and creating new programs to encourage local startups and draw in venture capital.

He uses workshops and networking to encourage Cornell researchers to launch their own startups. A monthly seminar and social event draws up to 30 science and engineering researchers and MBA students from the Johnson School. A short presentation focuses on an exciting new invention, but the emphasis is on lots of mingling before and after, in hopes that would-be entrepreneurs will partner with inventors -- ideally, to start new companies nearby.

"Johnson School alumni become very successful globally," Paau said. "Can we create an opportunity for them to stay here?"

Sometimes new companies grow for a few years and are then bought out by a big company. If the buyer moves the operation out of Ithaca, it's not the end of the world, Paau said. Either way, the buyout can be cause for celebration. "The inventors, entrepreneurs and local investors have all made some money, and now they're talking to us to do something again," he explained. "If we had licensed the technologies to outside companies at the beginning [we'd have made some money], but most of the value wouldn't have stayed in the community.

"We are still doing a lot of licensing to existing companies, but it is more strategic," he added. "We try to go to existing companies in the region first."

Paau also hopes to develop an "ecosystem" like one in San Diego, which includes specialized legal talent and local offices of outside venture capital firms, with the university as the hub.

A quick note on developing more international business linkages. One of the things we are trying to do here in Buffalo is to develop a true international airport in Niagara Falls, with weekly flights to both Asia and Europe. The thought is that between Niagara Falls tourism, the six million people in the Toronto area looking for cheaper air flights (many of whom are already traveling out of Buffalo), and higher landing fees in the coastal hubs, Buffalo can carve out a niche in the international airline industry. Having support from institutions like Cornell would just be a bonus. But after all, Cornell is two and a half hours from Buffalo, but five hours from JFK.

Matthew Nagowski | Posted on April 19, 2008 (#)

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