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Georgia Tech impact highlighted at forum on economic development

University System of Georgia Chancellor Hank Huckaby told the audience of entrepreneurs, academic leaders, scientists and legislators that economic development is one of the top priorities for the state’s 35 public colleges and universities.

Georgia Tech’s role in helping to strengthen the economic base of rural Georgia and in creating new companies and industries in the state was highlighted at the University System of Georgia’s inaugural forum on economic development, held this past week in Atlanta.

Karen Fite, associate director of industry services for the Georgia Tech Enterprise Innovation Institute, joined panelists from the University of Georgia, Georgia Health Sciences University and Georgia State University in addressing how the state’s research universities are impacting the economy in rural Georgia.

“Since the 1960s, Georgia Tech has reached across the state through a network of regional offices to help communities and companies of all sizes develop and implement technology-driven solutions to problems and to take advantage of new opportunities,” Fite said according to a news release. Fite cited several examples from Georgia’s food processing industry of the use of imaging, robotics and sensing technology developed by Georgia Tech scientists and engineers. 

Stephen Fleming, Georgia Tech vice president and executive director of the Enterprise Innovation Institute, moderated a panel discussion focused on generating companies and commercial opportunities from university research.  He suggested that two economic trends are at play as universities work to spin out startups from research.

“According to a Kauffman Foundation study, all net job creation in the United States comes from young companies,” Fleming said. “In addition, big companies are no longer spending billions of dollars on research; it is now being done by universities.”

Fleming asked the panelists what they looked for in starting a company.  Anthony Coker, senior director of market and solutions development for Suniva, Inc., said, “We are a solar cell producer and need to be close to our markets, so our manufacturing is located wherever our customers are. For research and development and for our corporate headquarters, however, we wanted to be close to the scientific talent at Georgia Tech.” Suniva’s products are based on the technology developed in the laboratories of Regents’ Professor Ajeet Rohatgi, founder of Suniva and director of Georgia Tech’s federally-funded Center of Excellence for Photovoltaic Research and Education.

Serial entrepreneur David Dodd, CEO of VaxyGen Holdings Inc., agreed with Coker. “For a startup, it is critical to be close to your research team,” he said. “Your real value is in the people who innovate and solve problems.”

University System of Georgia Chancellor Hank Huckaby told the audience of entrepreneurs, academic leaders, scientists and legislators that economic development is one of the top priorities for the state’s 35 public colleges and universities. “As was evident today, we are really doing great things in our schools, and we need to do even more to capture our faculties’ innovations,” he said. “The ideas generated at today’s forum will help us do that.”

- The Georgia Institute of Technology contributed to this story

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