424427 Engineered Systems for Entrepreneurs in Academia and Industry

Monday, November 9, 2015: 4:30 PM
Salon A/B/C (Salt Lake Marriott Downtown at City Creek)
D. Keith Roper, Engineering Education and Centers, National Science Foundation, Arlington, VA

Fig. 1. Discovery to innovation: crossing the abyss.
Fig. 2. Graduates of ERC program are better prepared for industrial innovation.
Fig. 3. T-shaped education for innovation: discipline, system, and boundary crossing.
Fig. 4. A roadmap for entrepreneurial development.
The Engineering Research Centers (ERC) Program has fostered entrepreneurial translation of scientific and engineering discovery to innovation since its establishment in 1985.  The National Science Foundation initiated its flagship ERC program at the request of the White House and National Academy of Engineering to develop an interdisciplinary culture of innovation by partnering academia and industry.  Innovation ecosystems cultivated in sixty-one multi-institutional ERC partnerships between universities, industries, and federal agencies in the past 30 years have bridged the ‘valley of death' between discovery and marketing (see Fig. 1).  ERCs have been awarded 382 patents, issued 669 licenses, and spun out over 171 companies with more than 1500 total employees.  

A number of innovative best practices have emerged from the ERC program that provide comprehensive support for entrepreneurship.  Among these best practices are novel curricula, interdisciplinary team-based project development, comprehensive strategic planning, vertical and horizontal mentoring by academic and industrial collaborators, experiential learning activities, and rigorous formative and summative assessment.  As a result, students who graduate from ERC program are ranked significantly higher than their peers in a number of relevant categories (see Fig. 2).  Included among over twelve thousand participants in ERCs in the past thirty years are founders of Google. 

Among federally supported programs that foster innovation, the ERC program is unique in its focus on translation of discovery to marketable innovation within the context of an engineered system. Test-beds in each ERC guide foundational research and integration of technology into proof-of-principle demonstrations of an engineered system.  Test-bed evolution is accelerated by benchmarking against state of the art, roadmapping using quantitative metrics and milestones, input from industrial and scientific advisory boards, annual evaluation by site visitors, and regular assessment of strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats.  Faculty, students, and industry researchers who partner in ERC activities engage in ‘T-shaped' acquisition and development of innovative capacity (see Fig. 3).   

Products and processes commercialized from ERC-developed technology are estimated at >$50B, a ~50-fold return on a roughly ~$1B federal investment in ERCs. The Food and Drug Administration recently licensed the Argus II retinal prosthesis which was developed by collaborating academic and industry entrepreneurs in an ERC at University of Southern California. ERC programs and participants are encouraged to develop a personalized roadmap for entrepreneurial development that adapts to the unique needs, challenges, and opportunities in their area of science and engineering, technology sector, and market segment (see Fig. 4.) 

This presentation will review the structure and design principles of the ERC program and experiences of its participants that highlight key aspects of entrepreneurship at the intersection of academia, industry, and government. 



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