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UNR, DRI look to improve community, research links

John Seelmeyer

Looking for ways to improve the chances that university research will lead to new companies and new jobs, higher-education officials in northern Nevada hope to get the private sector involved earlier in the process.

The Technology Transfer Office for the University of Nevada, Reno, and Desert Research Institute is launching partnerships between university researchers and industry executives to identify potentially promising areas of research even before laboratory work begins.

The five-month process matches a UNR or DRI faculty member with a mentor from the business community.

They’ll work to find research areas that have the greatest relevance to industry, talk over those possibilities with companies in the field and look for ways to fund research.

It’s a model that’s found success at schools such as Stanford, where university research has played a key role in driving the creation of the Silicon Valley technology cluster.

Much of the day-to-day work of the program in northern Nevada will be handled by the graduate students who work with the researchers and by interns from the master’s degree program in business administration at UNR, says Ryan Heck, a patent attorney who serves as director of the Technology Transfer Office for UNR and DRI.

The reliance on MBA interns and graduate students, Heck says, is intended to reduce the time commitments for busy faculty members and private-sector executives.

And it gives MBA students real-world experience in project-management.

The time commitment from private-sector mentors is expected to be a couple of hours a week, Heck says.

Early interest in the program has come from faculty members with interests in fields such as chemical engineering, biochemistry, and environmental engineering.

The technology-transfer office also is looking to build a wider network of industry experts who would be willing to review brief technology summaries and provide very brief feedback a sentence, a paragraph on the potential value of the technology in the marketplace.

“This serves a real, legitimate need that we have,” he says. “All we want from them is some ideas. This is an opportunity for our faculty to learn from the companies.”

(To sign up, go to tto.dri.edu and follow the links under “Community Programs.”)

The partnerships are part of a wider effort to engage northern Nevada’s business community in the technology-transfer and economic development efforts of the university, Heck says.

A series of “Industry on Campus” sessions, for instance, are planned to allow executives and faculty members to share their thinking about technological developments and their applications.