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'State of Innovation' - 2014 Greater San Marcos Innovation Summit

Greater San Marcos Innovation Summit
“State of Innovation”
Remarks by Texas State President Denise Trauth
November 5, 2014


Thank you for this opportunity to brief you on the state of innovation at Texas State University.  

I know that most of you are very familiar with our university.  

But some of you may not be, so let me start today by sharing five things you may not know about us.

  1. Texas State’s enrollment topped 36,700 this fall, making it the 27th-largest university in the United States.  Thirty-three states have no university as large as Texas State.
  2. We have the fifth-highest graduation rate among the 38 public four-year universities in Texas.
  3. We are the only school in Texas to have graduated a U.S. president: Lyndon Baines Johnson, who was in the Class of 1930.
  4. We offer 97 baccalaureate degrees, 88 master’s and 12 doctoral degrees. 
  5. We have a second campus in Round Rock, which offers 13 bachelor’s degrees, 12 master’s degrees, and 13 certificate programs, and is home to the St. David’s School of Nursing.

I could go on and on, but I’m here to talk about innovation. 

I will begin by painting for you the big picture illustrating what it is that makes Texas State distinctively innovative.  

We call ourselves a “new research university” because our faculty, staff, and students are engaged in research with relevance, and this permeates the whole university, creating a dynamic campus culture.  

We champion research that is applied, sometimes called translational research.  

Let me share with you the definition of translational research you will find if you look it up on Wikipedia.  

Simply put, translational research aims to make findings from basic science useful for practical applications that enhance human health and wellbeing.  

It’s practiced in engineering and in fields such as energy, environmental and agricultural sciences, as well as the health, behavioral, and social sciences.  

In other words, it translates scientific findings into practices, products, and productivity.  

A second reason why Texas State University is “a new research university” is that entrepreneurialism is embraced and nurtured.  

We want our faculty, staff, and students to commercialize their research, and if this means that they get rich because of work they have done with us, we think that is a good thing.  

Thirdly, we value and encourage interdisciplinary collaboration across our academic units.  

Perhaps we are fortunate that we came to our status in Texas as an emerging research university fairly late in our evolution.  

We came to this status at a time when it is widely acknowledged that cutting edge research developments will be at the intersection of disciplines and not in disciplinary silos. 

The best example of applied or translational research at Texas State University is our Ph.D. program in Materials Science, Engineering and Commercialization.  

The goal of this program is to train scientists and engineers to perform interdisciplinary research and equip them with the commercialization and entrepreneurial skills that they need to be effective leaders in the advancement of 21st century innovation.  

This is an interdisciplinary Ph.D. program with faculty from several disciplines in the College of Science and Engineering, as well as faculty from the McCoy College of Business Administration.  

We deliver an education to doctoral students that has commercial relevance.  

Since it is focused on commercialization and entrepreneurship, students cannot advance to candidacy without developing a business plan for a start-up company.  

This Ph.D. program is currently producing one to two new companies per year, and we have already started down the road toward development of a joint Ph.D./MBA program for the students who want an even deeper business background.  

Both augmenting and taking advantage of all of this is our research park.  

STAR Park, or our Science Technology and Advanced Research Park, is located just up the street from here, on the corner of Hunter Road and McCarty Lane.  

We currently own 58 acres at that location and have one building, a 14 thousand square foot technology incubator, for early stage emerging technology companies, and collaboration space for established firms.  

This building opened in November of 2012.  

Although we have been open just about two years, we currently have five clients and are out of space.  

Because of this, we are now in the process of finishing out shelled space and expanding the facility to 36 thousand square feet so we can have room for additional clients.  

STAR Park has a critical role in developing this greater San Marcos region so that it is globally competitive and beneficial to the Austin-San Antonio corridor, the state of Texas, and the entire country.  

What is truly inspiring about STAR Park is that it makes available the creative talents of our students, faculty, and staff, and our unique research facilities, to the private sector.  

And the result of this collective effort is an amazing energy that is on the cusp of producing breakthrough technology advancements that we expect will greatly benefit society.  

STAR Park, in conjunction with the research facilities on our San Marcos Campus, constitutes a unique, and I mean unique, research laboratory environment that has become an innovation attractor.  

Let me explain what I mean by that statement.  

What makes STAR Park different from many other research parks aligned with universities, is that the research facilities on campus don’t just provide a laboratory environment for our faculty, staff, and students. 

These facilities are made available to STAR Park clients on a competitive cost basis.  

We’re talking about, for example, clients engaged in nanoparticle and nanomaterial production research; companies that are looking at nanometals; clients generating nanosilicon for rocket propellant and other fuels; clients generating quantum dot tetrapods for low power lighting and displays and biomedical diagnostic applications; and clients who are working in the area of commercial quantity graphene and other 2D materials.  

We have the largest university-run molecular beam epitaxy facility in the United States, the largest and best equipped polymer processing lab at a university west of the Mississippi, the only simulated rocket motor in operation in a university in the United States, and one of only four university-operated teaching and research foundries in this country supporting next generation metal.  

All of these research facilities come together in the form of what we call Research Service Centers, and we have four of them.  

These centers provide users, including faculty, staff, students, and client companies, with research laboratory facilities for projects in science and engineering.  

The facilities are available not only to all Texas State people but also to our external partners who have established a relationship with Texas State University.  

These four Research Service Centers are 

  1. an advanced functional materials laboratory 
  2. an analysis research service center 
  3. an advanced polymers and nanomaterials laboratory and 
  4. nanofabrication shared space.  

Our industry partners tell us that our Research Service Centers are as high tech, high end maker space as exists in this country.  

They are a destination for companies large and small that want to outsource their R and D, and they allow these clients access to what would otherwise be prohibitively expensive tools for initial technology demonstration.  

I’ve told you a lot about the laboratory facilities that STAR Park clients have access to, but I would be remiss if I didn’t also tell you about the collaborative spirit that existed when STAR Park was created.  

We undertook this initiative during a tough economic climate in the wake of the 2008 recession.  

To make something like STAR Park work, collaboration with other major stakeholders was imperative and we had to play to our strengths.  

We focused on our, at that time, proposed Materials Science, Engineering and Commercialization Ph.D. program and then enlisted the help of the City of San Marcos, Hays County, and the Greater San Marcos Partnership.

The city played a particularly pivotal role, giving us a 500 thousand dollar grant to extend utilities to the research park.  

This collaboration secured a 1.85 million dollar grant from the U. S. Economic Development Administration, which was key to getting this project up and running.  

During a visit here in 2012, Matt Erskine, the agency’s deputy assistant secretary of commerce, hailed this collaboration as a model for others to follow.  

I am pleased that Mr. Erskine could be here today as our keynote speaker, and I’m glad he can see firsthand how his agency’s grant has been so empowering for us.  

It is also important to point out that there was buy-in from the State.  

Through its Emerging Technology Fund, the state made seed money available for commercialization efforts at Texas State.  

So, as you can see, our research park was made possible through a lot of careful thought and collaboration.  

Now let me share with you two examples of innovation and commercialization as it has emerged from the synergy generated by our research facilities on campus, our STAR Park and our Materials Science, Engineering and Commercialization Ph.D. program.  One example is what we call a spin-out and the other is a spin-in.  

SioTeX is a spin-out -- company that was founded by the first graduate of the Ph.D. program in Materials Science, Engineering and Commercialization, and it is based on research performed at our University.  

The company develops specialty silica nanoparticles.  
These are additives used, for example, in the development of paint, tires, and fiberglass products.  

To give you a sense of the success of this company, SioTeX placed fourth in winnings at the prestigious Rice University Business Plan Competition, and won the grand prize at The National American Chemical Society Green Chemistry Competition.  

It launched as a business in July 2014 after raising 500 thousand dollars in seed money, and SioTeX has leased from the University a small on-campus building for its pilot plant.  

This pilot plant will convert rice hulls to these specialty silica nanoparticles I referenced earlier.  

In addition to the founder, who is a graduate of the materials Ph.D. program, the start-up team consists of two current Ph.D. students, one MBA student, and one MFA in Art and Design student.  

As I said, SioTeX is a spin-out.  By contrast, MicroPower Global is a spin-in to the university and is a different kind of example of innovation and commercialization.  

In 2009 we entered into a university-industry commercialization partnership agreement with MicroPower Global, a thermoelectric heat harvesting company.  

This firm was a two-person start-up that relocated here from Arizona in order to use our laboratory facilities.  

It currently employs 21 people, primarily Texas State University students and graduates.  

Since it moved to San Marcos, the company has invested 1.5 million dollars in joint research and development projects, plus it has funded infrastructure upgrades at STAR Park.  

It is, in fact, the largest client at STAR Park, and in addition to the 21 people it employs, 13 of our student interns are working with MicroPower Global.  

This company is a spin-in because it relocated to San Marcos specifically to use the unique equipment that we have at our university in order to develop a prototype device.  

MicroPower Global is relying upon Texas State’s epitaxial growth and analysis facilities coupled with the technical expertise of our faculty and staff to make this prototype device.  

I will conclude my remarks today by sharing with you two exciting developments that will profoundly enhance our near-term future in distinctive innovation.  

First, one of the two disciplines that have been targeted for the next Ph.D. programs at Texas State is computer science.  

This doctoral program will be engaged in translational research driving toward practical applications of software solutions to problems ranging from security, to manufacturing, to sustainability.  

We will accomplish this translational approach, in part, by making computer science the second area, after nanomaterials, that will engage in partnerships at STAR Park.  

The second exciting development that I want to share with you occurred on Monday.  

That afternoon we signed an agreement with the Japanese multi-national provider of information technology services and products, NEC.  

Under this agreement, we are establishing a partnership that will lead to Texas State faculty, staff, and students participating in NEC research and development work in areas as diverse as water conservation and security systems.  

I’ve given you two reasons to believe that we at Texas State University will continue to cultivate our niche as distinctively innovative.

We have the right people and infrastructure to continue to translate scientific findings into practices, products, and productivity.  

Thank you for your kind attention.