CSU eco-devo office left indelible mark on state 2008-09 Bravo! Entrepreneur — Regional Spirit

FORT COLLINS – Colorado State University’s Office of Economic Development had regional spirit, but it was not reserved for Northern Colorado only. Even though the 2008 Bravo! Regional Spirit Award winner got its start in the local area it had always had the benefit for all of Colorado in mind.

During the time since Bravo! judges selected the university’s economic development office to receive the award, the office closed and its activities were folded into the realm of its parent organization, the CSU Office of Outreach and Strategic Partnerships.

But the record of achievement posted by the agency’s director and staff is indelible.

The idea for the university’s economic development office grew out of the realization that CSU had lost its connection with the community. “We asked ‘What does it mean to be a 21st-century land-grant university?’,´ said Hunt Lambert, who headed the office with the title associate vice president for economic development. “We felt we did not connect well with the community.”

To address the disconnect, CSU launched the agency on Nov. 1, 2005, with the mission “to grow the health of the Colorado economy by building partnerships with industry, local communities and economic development organizations; implementing economic development research and outreach programs; and supporting CSU startups.”

Traditional economic development agencies recruit businesses to their regions and then work to keep them there. But organizers of the CSU office decided to make sure communities statewide benefit based on what CSU does by focusing on delivery of technology developed at the university and delivery of talent for local businesses.

In its three-year existence the office established three technology superclusters, including global health solutions, cancer research and clean energy. The staff also re-engineered CSU’s technology-transfer process and launched the CSU Global Campus in September to provide skilled workers for startups and other area businesses.

Keeping IP rights

Such technology transfer efforts have only been possible since 1980, when federal law gave universities intellectual property rights over inventions developed on campus.

Lambert, who today serves in a closely related role as associate provost for the Division of Continuing Education, and his economic development office staff turned the long and winding road of getting inventions from concept to market into a superhighway to speed the newly developed technologies to businesses which can in turn bring them to market.

The most notable success of the revamped tech-transfer process is AVA Solar Inc. Using production techniques developed at CSU, the solar panel maker has raised $150 million in financing and expects to employ up to 500 when it reaches full production in its Longmont factory.

Lambert also pointed to other success stories such as Spirae Inc., Envirofit International Ltd. and Solix Biofuels.

To bolster the workforce for those and other emerging companies, the online Global Campus program caters to students with existing college credits or associate’s degrees and those seeking master’s degrees in Organizational Studies, Public Management and Online Teaching and Learning. The campus launched with approximately 300 students registered.

Making the campus Internet-based provides a convenience for potential students who would not otherwise consider going back to school. “We need to stop demanding everyone come to campus,” Lambert said. “And (Global Campus) can deliver talent anywhere in the state.”

Delivering talent statewide is something the economic development office staffers took very seriously as they looked to expand on the successes it has achieved in Northern Colorado. “We’ve embraced success with interaction in Northern Colorado,” Lambert said. “Now, how do we bring it to the state level? Is it possible to replicate? It looks hopeful.”