Blueprint for Business

David Rosowsky, Rebecca Robinson, and Kent GlassockK-State Innovation Partners boosts economic prosperity in Kansas

By Pat Melgares

Photo by Dan Donnert

When Scorpius BioManufacturing announced in April 2022 that it would be building a 500,000-square-foot facility and bringing 500 jobs to Kansas, it marked another success for a K-State-led program that aims to bring technology-based businesses to the Sunflower State.

Scorpius – previously known as Scorpion Biological Services – expects to complete its new facility in 2024 just east of Manhattan, on U.S. Highway 24. Officials with the company say the facility will manufacture vaccines and biological medicines – filling an important need that had been deemed insufficient during the recent global pandemic.

“A large percentage of that capability (currently) sits in China, Korea and India,” said the company’s former president David Halverson, when the announcement was first made. “Putting biomanufacturing back in the U.S. will enable us to hold our own in the event of another national emergency.”

That Scorpius picked Kansas for its second U.S. facility (the other is in San Antonio, Texas) was not by chance. Rebecca Robinson, the president and CEO of K-State Innovation Partners, said it was a culmination of several years’ of work making sure that the right partnerships and expertise were in place for success.

“(Scorpius) went through a national selection process,” Robinson said. “They were primarily looking at places that had higher education institutions. K-State, like others, had the types of academic programs that they were interested in.”

In particular, it was K-State’s expertise in infectious disease, biosecurity and bio-defense “that was really compelling in terms of a competitive advantage for a company like that to say that this is a place that is aligned with what they need from an innovation standpoint and a talent pipeline perspective,” according to Robinson.

Kent Glasscock, who served as president and CEO of K-State Innovation Partners for 20 years before stepping down in February, 2023, said most U.S. universities have some form of a program to leverage its faculty’s expertise and attract business.

K-State’s history dates to 1942 under the umbrella of the Kansas State University Research Foundation, or KSURF. In early 2003, Glasscock had just left his position as Speaker of the Kansas House of Representatives when K-State President Jon Wefald asked him to consider leading the university’s efforts in licensing and intellectual property.

“It was a very small organization at the time,” Glasscock said. “K-State was one of three members of a non-profit organization; the others were the State of Kansas and the City of Manhattan. The group also had a role to explore technology-based business startups.”

In 2008, K-State created KBED – Knowledge-Based Economic Development – and hired Robinson as its first intern.

“The purpose of that organization was to leverage Kansas State University talent innovation into attracting companies to this region in partnership with the Kansas Department of Commerce, Manhattan Chamber of Commerce and the City of Manhattan,” Glasscock said. “We were leveraging the smart people and smart ideas of Kansas State University in a way that fully engaged prospective companies. That was different from what was going on at other universities.”

Eventually, K-State’s Innovation Partners restructured its own non-profit organization controlled solely by the university. Glasscock said the group’s charge now includes:

  • technology commercialization,
  • economically based global corporate engagement and
  • economic development.

“Companies are interested in K-State and the state of Kansas for many reasons,” Robinson said. “One reason is our innovation, which might be a faculty member who creates knowledge or an invention. Through our public mission and mandate (as a land-grant university) we can take that intellectual property to the public, primarily through the commercial sector…and to the private sector so that it can be utilized more broadly by the public.”

“Beyond that,” she adds, “when our faculty members engage with the private sector, they are able to connect as closely as possible to specific needs. So whether it’s understanding the challenges in the marketplace, or specific needs that companies have, being that close to the particular challenges informs our research in ways that allow K-State to maintain relevancy.”

David Rosowsky, K-State’s vice president for research, cites the university’s dominance in the world wheat market as an example of the value of being connected to industry.

“K-State is a leader in winter wheat research, contributing to rural profitability and the overall economic strength of Kansas, while making a difference in feeding a growing global population,” Rosowsky said. “K-State breeding programs have released nearly 30 wheat varieties, and 80% to 90% of all U.S. hard winter wheat varieties have a line developed by K-State in their pedigree.”

Rosowsky said he is especially excited about one of K-State’s newest economic prosperity plan efforts, called K-State 105.

“K-State already has a strong presence in each of the state’s 105 counties through our extension offices,” he said. “The K-State 105 initiative allows us to connect additional strengths at the university to provide communities with resources to address growth issues, support local entrepreneurs and increase prosperity across the state.”

In 2019, the Kansas Legislature challenged each of the state’s universities to submit their goals for contributing to economic prosperity in the state.

Under the direction of current K-State President Richard Linton, the university is aiming to create 3000 new jobs and $3 billion in direct investment by companies choosing to locate to and expand within the state by 2029. By the end of 2022, K-State Innovation Partners reports great progress: 1,107 jobs and $650 million, with another 748 jobs and nearly $1.1 billion announced or in the pipeline.

“What K-State is doing in this realm is really exciting,” Glasscock said. “And K-State is doing it in ways that are similar to, yet different from, other universities around the country and world. We’ve won national and international awards for our work, and the reason is that K-State knows how to do this.”

“The K-State culture is amenable to this kind of activity, and we’re committed to that.”

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