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Cornell's Fledging Entrepenurial Spirit

When you think of Ithaca, NY, you don't exactly have connotations of the entrepreneurial hubs of Stanford's Palo Alto or MIT's Cambridge, but Cornell is trying to change that, in creating a new position for vice president of technology transfer:

"Technology transfer continues to grow in importance for all of Cornell's campuses, as does the need for Cornell to be active in the promotion of regional economic development," Skorton said in announcing Buhrman's appointment. "Establishment of the new position of Vice President for Technology Transfer, Intellectual Property and Research Policy with responsibility for handling these issues on behalf of the whole university will make certain there is clarity and purpose to our endeavors in this critical arena."

"While advancing the university's land-grant mission and boosting the state and national economy, technology transfer returns many benefits to the university," Buhrman noted. In addition to the direct revenue from licensing patents, he said, technology transfer enhances Cornell's image as a leader in innovative research, helps attract and retain top faculty and encourages state, federal and industrial research support.

This reminds me of a press release for Duke that landed in my inbox earlier this week:

The Blackstone Charitable Foundation and a consortium of major Triangle universities today announced the launch of the Blackstone Entrepreneurs Network, a new five-year initiative to help North Carolina’s Research Triangle become headquarters for America’s next high-growth companies with the greatest potential to create new jobs.

Partner universities include Duke University, North Carolina Central University, North Carolina State University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The Durham-based Council for Entrepreneurial Development also will be part of the effort.

A $3.63 million gift from the Blackstone Charitable Foundation will support the formation of a dense network of entrepreneurial support in the region, similar to networks that exist in Silicon Valley and the Boston Corridor. The goal of the program is to identify and mentor 30 start-up teams each year, for a total of 150 over the program’s five-year span. By linking talented serial entrepreneurs to local start-ups, the Blackstone Entrepreneurs Network has the potential over 10 years to create more than 17,000 jobs, attract more than $800 million in seed, start-up and expansion capital, and generate more than $4 billion in revenue.

Ithaca's challenge is that the Raleigh-Durham area is 20 times larger in terms of population, and features a younger and more-educated population. So technology transfer out of Cornell's research labs can and will certainly happen, but in order for Ithaca to really become a driver for Upstate's growth, Cornell needs to attract seed capital, like the North Carolina Research Triangle has through Blackstone. And then to somehow convince young, newly minted Cornellians to continue to foster their ideas along the shores of Cayuga.

I've often felt that one of the challenges with Ithaca is that it's just a bit too small. If Ithaca could somehow grow to a Burlington, VT or Madison, WI size city -- maybe two hundred thousand people -- it would be a far more appealing locale to develop a critical mass of young highly-educated individuals with an entrepreneurial spirit.

Matthew Nagowski | Posted on April 29, 2011 (#)

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