The diversity of expertise and knowledge present at a university can impact the world around it in many ways. Through its engagement with partners across sectors and industries, Kansas State University is leveraging its unique resources to support the social and economic well-being of communities across the state of Kansas and beyond. K-State helps foster innovation and support the innovators themselves by developing the capacity of its students, faculty, staff, and partners and working to improve the ways this innovation reaches the public. This activity plays an important role in the regional and national economy. In a recent Wall Street Journal article, AOL co-founder Steve Case discusses what he calls the “Third Wave” of internet innovation that is shaping the future of the economy. The First Wave consisted of large companies building the infrastructure for online activity, followed by the Second Wave where this technology was used to deliver a wide array of applications and services. According to Case, in the Third Wave, “Technological innovation will cascade across the largest sectors of our economy—including health care, education, agriculture and transportation—to create tech-enabled, tangible goods that bring the internet to life.” Lower barriers to entry have made it easier for entrepreneurs to start companies no matter where they are. And, as Case points out, “Because Third Wave industries are located across the country, Middle America will be an economic focal point for the U.S., not just its geographic center…these changes will nurture more startup ecosystems across the country, with young entrepreneurs ditching Manhattan, NY for Manhattan, KS.”
Areas like California’s Silicon Valley emerged as big winners during the first two waves of internet innovation. Although this amount of success in one geographic region, “may never be repeated,” Case said, “its recipe—proximity to disruption-ripe industries and world-class universities—is creating hubs of innovation all over the U.S.” So how can Kansas State University embrace this emerging opportunity to positively impact the future of the state, regional, and national economy? According to Case, an area’s, “likelihood to rise—or fall— will come down to whether its leaders embrace the three P’s: people, purpose, and partnerships.”
Like many K-State stories do, it all starts with people. “K-State certainly has a unique advantage from an economic standpoint when you look at the talent we have on our campuses and in our students,” said Chad Jackson, Director of the K-State Center for the Advancement of Entrepreneurship. “K-State plays a very unique role in the region and can continue to enhance the entrepreneurial hub that we can provide, not only through commercialization of our research, but especially through our talent.”
The Center for the Advancement of Entrepreneurship began in 2009 and works to develop tomorrow’s innovators through academic programming, educational opportunities for entrepreneurs, mentoring programs, and access to critical early-stage capital. In addition to offering an undergraduate major and minor in the K-State College of Business Administration, the Center facilitates several non-credit initiatives and outreach activities for entrepreneurs. Each year, undergraduate and graduate students from every department have the opportunity to participate in the university-wide idea competition, K-State Launch. Since it was established in 2012, 2,200 students have registered to compete and $120,000 have been awarded to 47 new companies that have launched from the initiative. After submitting an executive summary, finalists have the opportunity to pitch their ideas to a panel of K-State alumni as well as entrepreneurs and investors from the community who will select the top ideas and award $20,000 to those ideas each year. “K-State Launch continues to be a great avenue to encourage and help students learn about entrepreneurship,” said Jackson.
This photo shows K-State students presenting their K-State Launch idea to a panel of judges in the Alumni Center Ballroom. The top ideas at the K-State Launch competition receive $20,000 in support for their emerging entrepreneurial enterprises. You can read more about the fall and spring 2015 winners, as well as information on other past winners, on the K-State Launch website.
In addition to developing the entrepreneurial capacity of K-State students, the Center for the Advancement of Entrepreneurship is engaged in outreach to help advance entrepreneurial activity throughout the state of Kansas. The Kansas Entrepreneurship Challenge is a statewide initiative open to every high school student in the state as well as students at every Kansas Board of Regents institution who compete in two separate divisions for $75,000 in start-up capital that will be distributed across the top teams.
The final outreach effort, the Launch a Business or K-State LAB program, focuses on emerging business ideas from around the state of Kansas who, if selected, will participate in an intensive five-week Venture Accelerator program. Up to ten entrepreneurs from any industry will be selected based on their scalability, sustainability, and likelihood to succeed. In addition, up to ten businesses in Global Food Systems industries can be selected to come to K-State for a unique business development experience. At the Venture Accelerator, businesses get access to workshops with world-class faculty, undergraduate and graduate student research teams that provide research into market development that supports the venture, and a network of 30 different K-State alumni mentors who work one-on-one with the businesses to provide input and resources that advance their ideas. At the culmination of the program, these business will present their plan at a public event where a panel of K-State alumni, investors, and entrepreneurs will select the top ideas and award $90,000 in cash and prizes to these emerging Kansas businesses. “K-State LAB was built around the idea that we want to support economic development in the state, help entrepreneurs start and grow companies, and leverage K-State’s unique resources to support growth,” said Jackson. “So what is the most unique resource we can offer? It’s our people—our students, faculty, staff, and alumni—who can support entrepreneurs and economic development not only at K-State and in Manhattan but across the state of Kansas.”
A wide range of ideas have been submitted to K-State’s entrepreneurial engine, from useful products and services to social enterprises. These outcomes advance another area that Steve Case mentions as important to embrace: purpose. The future workforce and consumers, “will be drawn to companies and cities that emphasize philanthropy and investment that produces social benefit in addition to financial return,” said Case. And when it comes to enhancing the university’s economic development efforts, K-State will need to embrace the purposes for its work as well—many of which revolve around the people themselves.
According to Case, startups account for nearly all of the economy’s net new jobs. “The talent being developed at K-State becomes a great resource for any organization, but especially for a startup company,” said Chad Jackson. Ability to attract, train, and retain the right talent in the early stages of a company is critical to the firm’s growth, he said. In addition to preparing tomorrow’s innovators and job creators, the university can serve a vital purpose in today’s knowledge economy. The K-State Institute for Commercialization is dedicated to the start-up and expansion of technology-based, high-growth enterprises and enabling the commercialization of university and under-utilized corporate intellectual property. The Institute provides opportunity assessment, strategic partnership design, technology acquisition, management and licensing, business development, and technology transfer support activities for entrepreneurs to commercialize intellectual property emanating from basic research at Kansas State University and other intellectual property portfolios. One of their signature initiatives, Knowledge Based Economic Development (KBED), is a partnership between seven entities from K-State and the Manhattan community working to support the growth of knowledge-based companies in the region by providing access to world-class university research, a talented workforce, facilities, business services, and capital. The result of the relationships formed between KBED and knowledge-based companies is not only enhanced research opportunities and revenues for the university and its faculty, but also the creation of high paying, knowledge-based jobs for the community.
Rebecca Robinson, center right, director of economic development at the Kansas State University Institute for Commercialization, accepts the Award of Excellence for Innovation from University Economic Development Association board members for her work on an event series to develop faculty teams to pursue large grants and industry partnerships.
K-State’s industry partnerships have helped leverage its unique capabilities and expertise to fuel economic development and spur entrepreneurial activity. KBED seeks to recruit companies to the area by leveraging the capabilities and expertise available at K-State to build relationships and collaboration and foster a strong entrepreneurial environment, especially for companies that complement K-State's existing research strengths, such as: Animal Health, Food Science and Safety, Grain Science, Mechanical and Nuclear Engineering, Nano Science, and Plant Science. Within the past two years, two animal health companies have located in the region in order to be in close proximity to K-State. Earlier this year, KBED and the Institute for Commercialization received recognition from the University Economic Development Association when two of their programs were selected as finalists for the Award of Excellence for Innovation. “Having two programs as finalists in this category demonstrates the level of collaboration at K-State to both reach our research goals and ensure that research success translates to economic growth in our state,” said Peter Dorhout, the university’s vice president for research.
In August 2014, Kansas State University co-founded TechAccel to transfer university research in the animal health, agriculture, and food ingredient sectors into products that U.S. and international companies can take to market. This effort was a runner up for this year’s Award of Excellence for Innovation. The Institute for Commercialization’s continued work on Strategic Partnerships and Outreach not only affects Manhattan but also the state of Kansas and the region. K-State’s nationally recognized expertise in animal health provides a strong example of partnerships that advance economic growth. With the anticipated arrival of the National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility and close proximity of the Animal Health Corridor, the Institute works to identify and match unmet needs with the knowledge and expertise available at Kansas State University to assist in the advancement and growth of companies. This work not only creates promotes job growth, it also generates revenue streams for K-State while providing benefit to the university and its students.
The winner of the University Economic Development Association’s Award of Excellence for Innovation was the event series that has engaged more than 900 faculty members since it began in 2010. The series has hosted 24 separate events, spanning from unmanned aerial systems to gerontology, and built teams of K-State faculty members to pursue large research proposals and industry partnerships. “Like all universities, we have clusters of research strengths, but like most universities, they aren’t always well organized or leveraged,” said Rebecca Robinson, Director of Economic Development at the Institute for Commercialization. “We knew that if we could help bring together groups of faculty interested in similar topics, there were tremendous opportunities to advance the university and economic development,” Robinson said. Developing partnerships is critical to the future of this work. "We also focus on the university's commitment to identifying faculty and staff whose expertise makes them good partners for prospective businesses," said Robinson. With over $32 million in economic impact to date and over 750 jobs created, Knowledge Based Economic Development will continue to make an impact and draw national recognition. Earlier this week, KBED brought home the Excellence in Technology Based Economic Development from SSTI.
This video features the 2016 K-State Research Showcase held by the Office of Corporate Engagement. Watch the video to hear what K-State faculty and industry partners had to say about this opportunity to engage. The 2017 K-State Research Showcase will be held on May 17, 2017 at K-State Olathe!
As part of K-State 2025, many of the college and departmental strategic plans target industry engagement, development of intellectual property, and research mobilization as key activities across a number of fields and key areas of research strength. The K-State 2025 Strategic Action Plan for Corporate Engagement (pdf) envisions K-State as, “the partner of choice for a growing number of strategic corporate partnerships that result in innovative research and diverse business solutions and advance common interests and goals.” This work spans across multiple departments and each of K-State’s campuses. The Office of Corporate Engagement works to bridge campus and industry and fuel efforts such as the Innovation Accelerator at K-State Olathe and the K-State Research Showcase.
"Our economic development efforts have become a model for others in the country,” said Dorhout. K-State’s Center for the Advancement of Entrepreneurship and university-wide collaborations for economic development will continue to improve the economic environment—making it more attractive for entrepreneurs and helping give its students, and partners across a wide range of industries, the best opportunities to succeed. As the university continues its advancement to become a top 50 public research university, this work will continue to expand through K-State’s commitment to people, purposes, and partnerships. “I think we’ve got all the right tools in place, and the Wall Street Journal article certainly points to Kansas State University as a key hub for innovation in the future,” said Jackson. “There’s a lot more we can do, and I’m excited to be a part of it; we have a lot of opportunity in front of us.”