Firms find campus homes
David AuCoin and Tom Kozel spend part of most days working in the Reno laboratory of DXDiscovery Inc., a startup that’s developing medical diagnostic tests.
The little company is like untold numbers of technology startups around the region, raising capital from investors and working to build a profitable business on the platform of new research.
What’s different about DXDiscovery, however, is that the lab of the privately held company is located on the campus of the University of Nevada, Reno, campus.
The leased space is just a few steps from the academic offices of Kozel and AuCoin, professors of microbiology at UNR.
DXDiscovery is one of a handful of private businesses taking root on UNR campuses from one end of Reno to another.
And the creation of private businesses on UNR campuses provides a quiet counterpoint to all the attention that’s focused on UNR’s plans for growth and development in the direction of the downtown Reno business district.
More businesses are likely to be located on campus, even though UNR doesn’t have an abundance of space, says Mridul Gautam, the university’s vice president for research and innovation.
“All universities should be engines of economic development in their region,” says Gautum.
Faculty members gain important perspective when they work close to business owners on campus, he says. The university stands to gain over the long-term through equity stakes or deals to share intellectual property with some of the companies located on campus.
Probably the most publicized of the companies located on the UNR campus is drone-maker Flirtey.
UNR took an equity stake in the company in exchange for giving it access to the university’s research labs and indoor flight-testing facilities.
Gov. Brian Sandoval has called the deal to move the Australian startup’s operations to the Reno campus a demonstration of the state’s commitment to development of an unmanned autonomous system industry in the state.
Easy access to the university’s researchers and laboratories is a common theme among the companies housed on campus.
Firebird Sensors Inc., for instance, leased space at the Nevada Terawatt Facility in Stead as the company developed its patented technology to measure the power of high-energy lasers.
The Nevada Terawatt Facility, largely supported by the National Nuclear Security Administration of the U.S. Department of Energy. performs basic research in high-energy-density physics.
Its two high-power laser generators helped Firebird Sensors move technology originally developed for the U.S. Navy into commercial applications, says Chief Executive Officer James Parsons.
A few miles to the south, DXDiscovery researchers are seeking diagnostic markers for challenging medical conditions such as Lyme disease.
The 500-square-foot lab is convenient to the academic offices of Kozel and AuCoin, but AuCoin says the private-sector lease provides another major benefit to the startup.
“As an academic lab, we couldn’t write and submit small business grants to the federal government,” he says.
The company recently received a $600,000 grant from a small-business technology program of the National Institutes of Health, one of four federal grants it’s won to finance its research.
Renting space from the Nevada System of Higher Education proved to be a laborious process.
Still, AuCoin says, “This would be hard to do if we have a lab space off campus. We like the partnership with the university.”
Not all of the on-campus are technology based.
Nevada Vines and Wines, for instance, leases several acres at the Main Station Field Lab in east Reno for an experimental vineyard that builds on the research of Professor Grant Cramer.
And at the Valley Road campus, High Desert Farming Initiative is using university research to develop organic farming techniques for high desert climates.
The initiative is selling produce to local distributors as well as UNR dining services.
Concerned that a spate of COVID-19-related lawsuits could bankrupt businesses, members of the Las Vegas Metro Chamber of Commerce implored the state’s congressional delegation during the chamber’s annual D.C. retreat to pass a federal liability protection measure.