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Texas State University jumps into commercialization

Aug 13, 2010

Austin Business Journal

Texas State University has received a federal grant to help build its Science Technology Advanced Research project — a commercialization center anticipated to spin out technologies, bring in fledgling companies and create jobs in Central Texas.

Texas State’s Office of Commercialization and Industrial Relations, or OCIR, learned this month that it will receive a $1.8 million grant from the U.S. Economic Development Administration. That grant will support creating the Science Technology Advanced Research, or STAR, building, which is part of Texas State’s new office of commercialization.

Created two months ago, OCIR merges the university’s efforts under one umbrella, making research and commercialization a top priority at the school. Texas State has $12 million for such work. The money comes from a $4.2 million Emerging Technology Fund grant, which was matched by the university and industry.

“STAR will bring together high-tech business … and it allows us to combine the city and the university in a meaningful partnership,” said Terry Golding, executive director of OCIR.

STAR will give faculty a place where they can commercialize intellectual property, and it will serve as a technology incubator for startup companies, with a focus on green energy and biotech companies.

The first phase of the STAR project, to be built on 38 acres off Interstate 35, is a 20,000-square-foot building that will house OCIR administrative offices, wet labs, clean room space and other research components. Wet lab space is in demand in Central Texas, Golding said.

Texas State is in discussions with an architect, which it declined to name until the contract is finalized.

Texas State hopes to build about 36,000 square feet of research space on the site at McCarty Lane and Hunter Road. It has not completed the master plan, said David Bisett, Texas State’s real estate specialist.

Construction on the first STAR building, estimated to cost $6 million, is scheduled to begin in spring or summer 2011 and take about a year to complete, although the university is working to speed up the timeline. Funding is in place for the project.

Deals already in the works

The commercialization office and STAR will boost Texas State’s profile as a research institution. STAR has already piqued the interest of startups. OCIR has a number of deals on the table, ranging from green solar companies to biotechnology firms, and is in advanced discussions with several companies.

Two companies are already located at Texas State in anticipation of the STAR building: MicroPower Global, a startup focused on a green device that converts heat into electricity, and a semiconductor manufacturer from Taiwan.

MicroPower Global is developing prototype chips at Texas State’s Multifunctional Materials Laboratory building in San Marcos.

Ali Murdoch, CEO of MicroPower, said that once it completes its prototype, the company intends to fund its commercialization phase, a $10 million project, at Texas State’s new commercialization center. The company plans to employ 20 in San Marcos during that phase.

“The arrangement provides a low-cost base for the company’s engineering work at a facility specifically designed for commercialization projects of this nature,” the company said on its website.

Another major draw for startups is Texas State’s fast-growing engineering program and its new materials science, engineering and commercialization program, which marries science with business and entrepreneurship. Texas State expects that the program’s graduates will be positioned to become chief technology officers.

In the last year, four startups have been spun out of Texas State. And Golding is confident that given a new building, STAR will continue to spin out two or three startups a year. He also expects to attract about three companies to the university each year.

Initially, STAR will have room for about seven companies.

The collective goal for the university and the region is that these companies will stay and grow in Central Texas.

“Having a research commercialization center in a community is absolutely an economic engine,” said Amy Madison, San Marcos’ economic development director.

Many in the region, including leaders from San Marcos, Caldwell County, Lockhart and Luling, signed a resolution in support of the STAR project, Madison said.

“A facility like this in our backyard is great for the region. These companies will be locating everywhere between Austin and San Antonio,” she said.

In addition to regional chambers and economic development centers, local attorney and longtime tech advocate Pike Powers has been assisting Texas State in efforts to recruit companies to STAR, Golding said.

STAR’s reach will also extend to Williamson County. The office of commercialization plans to work with Texas State’s campus at the Round Rock Higher Education Center.

Additionally, OCIR plans to collaborate closely with the University of Texas’ Office of Technology Commercialization, which has created 46 companies during the past seven years. In March, UT launched Texas Venture Labs, a campuswide program that supports student and faculty entrepreneurs in starting businesses.

Experts believe STAR will complement, not compete with, UT’s efforts.

Central Texas has done well with one innovation engine at the University of Texas at Austin, but having two will be better for the region and even for UT, said Isaac Barchas, director of the Austin Technology Incubator at UT.

“There will be more opportunities for new companies and students from the University of Texas to start companies or have employment at new companies,” he said.

With an enrollment of 30,803 students in the fall 2009 semester, Texas State is reaching a critical mass, in terms of generating new innovations and new ideas, Barchas said.

“I think it’s absolutely fantastic that Texas State is moving more aggressively into commercialization,” Barchas said. “Commercialization really profits from having multiple centers that are striving to commercialize technologies and innovations.”

Both UT and Texas State are responding to Gov. Rick Perry’s mandate for public institutions to increase commercialization and contribute to the state’s economy.

“We would like to fulfill the governor’s mission, and that is transitioning research into commercialization to create jobs,” Golding said. “We want to see companies move in from out of state and companies starting from the intellectual property generated by the university and our sister educational establishments.”

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