Over the course of the discussions that occurred at the first workshop in February, many participants and COSEPUP members noted that it is important to consider regional and institutional cultures. Specifically, they observed that universities and private companies have very different cultures and that a major challenge is to understand and deal with the differences. One way to bridge the gap is to create intermediary institutions—research parks—that are a hybrid of university and company cultures.
To investigate these multifaceted enterprises further, COSEPUP determined that an additional, smaller set of discussions should be held in Washington, DC, with experts experienced in many aspects of research park creation, promotion, management, and utilization. This chapter focuses on the discussion from those panels, with some of the more frequently mentioned topics listed in Box 5-1.
The Role of the Research Parks
• Research parks are important institutions for filling in some of the gaps between research institutions and industry.
• Research parks help regions turn their investment in education into good jobs and economic productivity.
• Significant variety exists among research parks.
• Research parks need external support.
• Formation of research parks has continued at rapid pace and has spread quickly internationally.
• Research parks are not necessary to develop research capacity. However, they can stimulate the economy by enhancing research capacity enough to support higher-value activities and attract business investment.
• Research parks benefit from evolving and responding to competition.
• Scale matters.
THE CONNECTION BETWEEN PARTS OF THE SYSTEM
Research parks are numerous and vary in composition and operation. Charles Wessner, the associate director of Board on Science, Technology, and Economic Policy (STEP) at the National Academy of Sciences, quoted Professor Al Link’s observation that “If you’ve seen one research park, you’ve seen one research park.” Nevertheless, Wessner noted that during the more than 20 years STEP has been studying research parks a common mission has emerged: they help regions turn their investment in education into good jobs and economic productivity.
The first parks were created in the 1950s by universities that saw a need for a middle ground where researchers with commercially promising ideas could work with business and financial experts to develop ideas into products. Research parks have proliferated since. Universities have been the most prevalent sponsors, but national labs and state governments have also launched parks. Eileen Walker, the executive director of the Association of University Research Parks, explained that the growth in the number of parks has actually accelerated in the past decade, and parks have also become common in Europe and Asia. Worldwide, there are now over 460 research parks with a total of more than 380,000 employees.
Walker pointed to three primary objectives for research parks: to “create an environment that encourages innovation,” “offer industry access for
faculty and students,” and “serve as a landing pad for industry recruitment.” Each park, however, must adapt to local and regional strengths and goals.
The representatives of the parks who participated in the workshop provided ample evidence that this is true. On one end of the spectrum, John Hardin, the executive director of the North Carolina Board of Science and Technology, explained that Research Triangle Park has 170 companies with 40,000 employees. At the other extreme, Lewis Branscomb, co-founder of the Joint Institute for Laboratory Astrophysics (JILA), pointed out that JILA is actually a virtual organization with no employees. Instead, it provides a place where hundreds of researchers who work for the University of Colorado at Boulder or the National Institute of Standards and Technology can work side by side or together.
TYPES OF RESEARCH PARKS
The significant variation among research parks was described by representatives from a number of the parks themselves.
Research Triangle Park (RTP), founded in 1959, was among the first and is perhaps the world’s best known research park. Hardin told COSEPUP that it was a “highly ambitious ‘big bet’ that served as a catalyst for assembling and aligning the knowledge resources and business climate attributes to create opportunities for the people of North Carolina.” Cited as one of the best gambles taken by a state, according to Hardin, it was intended to link Duke University in Durham, North Carolina State University in Raleigh, and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and utilize a local airport in an originally low-population, primarily farmland region. As Branscomb noted, while RTP might not be known for cutting edge innovations, its regional economic impact cannot be overstated.
Known primarily for its success in attracting large companies such as IBM, RTP has actually drawn a much more diverse clientele. Over 60 percent of RTP’s 170 companies have fewer than 25 employees. The vast majority of companies (about 82 percent) are involved in scientific industries, with the preponderance of those in the life sciences.
Research parks in general work primarily with established companies, but some also include incubator programs designed to help entrepreneurs launch new companies. RTP, for example, has six start-up incubators, but this is a relatively small part of the operation. There are also SBIR and STTR matching grant programs across the state of North Carolina, as well as other, sector-specific networking and mentoring programs. Even with all of these supports in place, Hardin admitted that, for small new companies, “it is easier to fail than to succeed.”
Indeed, in the past decade RTP has seen a slowdown in employment growth. As a state, North Carolina has seen a fall in per capita income as compared to the U.S. average. To address these concerns, the North Carolina
Department of Commerce is undertaking a revitalization effort for RTP, said Hardin. This plan—which involves development of support infrastructure like service industry and public transportation within RTP as well as changes to local zoning laws—highlighted the fact that research parks must provide both hard infrastructure of transportation and communications and soft infrastructure of education and cultural amenities.
The situation in Maryland is slightly different. “Research parks are where academic culture meets corporate culture,” said Brian Darmody, the Associate Vice President for Research and Economic Development and the Director of Corporate Relations for University of Maryland (UMD) and the Special Assistant Vice Chancellor for Technology Development for the University System of Maryland, although he described his position as the “Director of University-Corporate Happiness.” Because of the unique position of all the different players in and around the University of Maryland, Darmody stressed the opportunities research parks there provide to both entrepreneurs and local federal agencies.
One of the major functions of research parks that Darmody mentioned was helping universities overcome innovation barriers by explaining and navigating compliance regulations. He noted that entrepreneurs tend to be non-compliant people, which is why they are innovators. One example he gave was if a project needed classified research that must be done off campus: a research park could provide the space. In addition, to work with industry, university entrepreneurs must branch across departmental barriers because industry representatives want to work with only one office. This actually has a benefit for the research community on campus by “breaking down silos” that form between fields.
In addition to these standard industry-university relations, UMD research parks also provide and receive unique opportunities from the high density of local federal facilities. The University of Maryland has many nearby federal institutions, including National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Centers for Environmental Prediction, National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)’s Goddard Space Flight Center, the Department of Defense funded Center for Advanced Study of Language, and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA)’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition.
One example of the symbiotic federal relationship that he pointed to was the FDA’s international training program in food safety held at the research park. He explained that because of the global nature of the market, the best way to ensure food safety is to encourage other countries to adopt FDA standards via lab-based training. However, the federal nature of the FDA’s lab restricts foreigners from attending the campus. The UMD Park provides a geographically proximal middle ground where the training can be done by FDA staff using the appropriate equipment, with the added benefit of stimulating the local economy through hotel and travel accommodations.
The interactions with the federal agencies are not one-way streets, and UMD has benefited from federal programs such as the National Science Foundation’s Innovation Corps programs, which aim to move new ideas out of the lab and into practice.
Federal laboratories have also set up research parks. In 1998, Sandia National Laboratory turned to the National Academy of Sciences to help it plan a new research park. Jackie Kerby Moore, Executive Director of Sandia Science and Technology Park (SS&TP), explained that the original vision was to create “a place that would serve as a partnership tool for Sandia by providing direct access to industry science and technology to further the labs’ mission.”
Initially, Kerby Moore explained, SS&TP’s purpose was to serve Sandia by bringing new ideas to the lab and marketing products developed by researchers at the lab, as well as providing individuals access to some otherwise inaccessible parts of the lab. It is now an internationally recognized, master-planned system, and while Sandia does not own any of the land on which the park is housed, it is in charge of the daily management, executive overview, and vision. The park has received many awards over the years, including the Outstanding Research Park of the Year from the Association of University Research Parks, the Outstanding State and Local Economic Development from the Federal Laboratory Consortium, the Technology-Led Economic Development Award from the U.S. Department of Commerce Economic Development Administration, and the Partnership Award from the International Economic Development Council.
Kerby Moore cited a couple of specific success stories that developed from SS&TP. EMCORE, a company that produces solar photovoltaic cells, moved to New Mexico from New Jersey after working with the park and licensing technologies from the labs. The CEO is a former Sandia employee with a background in photovoltaic cell research. The company recently opened a 17-acre solar farm in the park. TEAM Technologies, which was already based in the park, wanted to expand its operations. It licensed “Stingray,” an improvised explosive device detection technology, from Sandia and has manufactured and shipped over 7,000 units to Afghanistan.
The park has also allowed Sandia to move some user facilities such as the Computer Science Research Institute, the Cyber Engineering Research Laboratory, and the Center for Integrated Nanotechnologies off campus, opening them up to even more users.
Kerby Moore explained that Sandia is very interested in creating an “incubator-like space” or a proof of concept program. Originally, this was not part of the design of the park because the need was not seen as pressing. The University of New Mexico (UNM) already had an incubator. But UNM had very little land, whereas SS&TP had plenty. The two institutions started to work collaboratively to foster new companies. Kerby Moore clarified that SS&TP is continuing to explore new ways to increase technology transfer income.
Sandia National Labs is not the only national laboratory that has set up a research park. Kerby Moore and Wessner named multiple facilities such as NASA’s Research Park at NASA Ames, Oak Ridge Science & Technology Park at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, and the Livermore Valley Open Campus, which is associated with Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and the Sandia National Laboratories California site.6
Perhaps the most unusual research park arrangement was discussed by Lewis Branscomb. The Joint Institute for Laboratory Astrophysics (JILA) in Colorado is actually only an agreement between the University of Colorado at Boulder and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) to share a common geographic location and set of expertise. JILA has no employees, but researchers from both the university and NIST work at the institute. The university owns the land and the facilities, but NIST rents half; NIST provides the instrumentation and funds research staff. Most of the research grants, however, come through the university researchers. The park is guided by a group of JILA fellows who strive to ensure that the collaboration is mutually beneficial. Branscomb stated that this was not a particularly difficult task because both partners are highly motivated to perform excellent research.
Eileen Walker provided examples of other successful research parks that had developed their own modes of operation. The Cummings Research Park in Huntsville, Alabama, has 285 companies with 25,000 employees on an 11 million square foot park. The focus is mainly on aeronautics, due to its association with NASA’s Marshall space flight center and United States Army’s Redstone Arsenal, but some biotechnology firms are also present. Clemson University’s International Center for Automotive Research was started when BMW asked the university to develop a program and facilities for automotive research. More traditionally, both Purdue University and the University of Wisconsin, Madison, have research parks that were developed to capitalize on their traditional research strengths—engineering for Purdue and biotechnology for Wisconsin.
Wessner also provided some examples of research parks with which STEP had interacted. In particular, he described the Tech Valley Cluster in Albany, New York, a joint investment by the state of New York and IBM in the College of Nanoscale Sciences and Engineering of State University of New York, Albany. The intended goal is to develop a full workforce pathway in the nanoscale sciences and technologies. Wessner reminded the workshop attendees that, when thinking about parks from a university perspective, the investment is to benefit everyone; “It is important for academia to remember that it is not just investing in the university alone: you need to invest in the whole network. And to the extent that you can work through those shared facilities, and perhaps more importantly, common purpose, you can do better.”
6 It should be stressed that many national labs have research parks; SS&TP and the collaboration at JILA are simply representative examples.
Many of the participants identified networking and cultural exchange as major benefits of research parks and described programs designed to facilitate mentoring, informal networking, and the movement of personnel.
Kerby Moore described SS&TP’s Entrepreneurial Program, which gives leave to Sandia employees for up to two years to start or expand companies and guarantees their jobs upon return. Sandia is also starting a retiree mentoring program at the request of some former employees who wish to stay involved and provide guidance to new companies.
Such formal systems, however, are not always necessary. Paul Citron, a member of COSEPUP and former Vice President for Technology Policy and Academic Relations of Medtronic, Inc., and Lewis Branscomb mentioned high-innovation cities such as San Diego and San Francisco where a culture of communication and interaction took shape without institutional help. Branscomb pointed out that “the ability of a community to take risks is crucial to innovation.” The success of the innovation system in San Diego illustrates that research parks are not essential to develop capacity, but it provides an example of the type of innovation environment that research parks can try to create. In general, the key to much of the success of the U.S. innovation system is the willingness to accept that some ideas will fail and to then learn from these failures, said Branscomb, and “this is not true in other parts of the world.”
The research park model has spread quickly in Asia and Europe, though the university role is smaller in those areas. Walker explained that in many regions, governments are funding research parks that are then “poaching” U.S. companies by offering cheap land and labor. Wessner mentioned some examples of research parks in China and Singapore that have benefited greatly from directed government investment and interest. In Europe, he described programs that span the entire European Union as well as those that are country specific, such as French incentives for collaborations.
The best known international system is probably the Fraunhofer Institutes in Germany. With funding from the federal government, state government, and industry, the institutes conduct application-oriented research of use to industry, the service sector, and public administration. They also operate a number of Fraunhofer Academies that provide sophisticated vocational training. This model is now migrating to the United States. Darmody discussed Fraunhofer USA programs in Maryland and Delaware that focus on software and bioengineering, respectively. But this system should be embraced cautiously, said Wessner. It has helped Germany sustain its manufacturing
sector, but it has not produced game-changing start-ups or innovative new products.7
THE IMPORTANCE OF LOCALIZATION AND SCALE
All the participants agreed that there is no single model for a research park. Each park must be designed to suit its particular region, available resources, and economic needs. Walker pointed out that parks require active interaction with a locus of research such as a university or national lab, a long-term perspective, a respectful leadership, and a willingness to adapt to evolving conditions. Wessner and Hardin specified that parks are also useful for forming clusters of capacity that are valuable for attracting businesses to a region. The symbiotic relationship between research parks and the surrounding region is crucial to the innovation ecosystem. Branscomb pointed out that not only is localization of a park going to happen, it is necessary for successful development.
Research parks generally focus on working with existing companies rather than nurturing start-ups. However, some parks have begun to add incubators that cater to the needs of entrepreneurs. This is consistent with the original impetus to create parks that fill in gaps that exist in the local economy and innovation ecosystem.
Hardin stressed that research parks must keep evolving and responding to competition, pointing out that even Research Triangle Park needs an upgrade. Walker noted that in identifying best practices that have emerged from years of research park experience one key element is that a park must have “a self-supporting business model in balance; even with all the other player[s], it needs to be able to take care of itself.”
It was generally agreed that scale matters and that some research parks are simply not big enough to make a difference. However, research parks do not have to re-create every aspect of Silicon Valley to be successful. They can stimulate the economy by enhancing capacity enough to support higher-value activities and attract business investment. Research Triangle Park is a perfect example. As Branscomb said: “The goal should be consistent with what should get done.”
7 A notable exception not mentioned during the workshop is the MP3 technology, developed at the German company Fraunhofer-Gesellshaft.