Area Universities Form New Innovation Alliance
By Anita Huslin
Evidently, the Washington area has a secret weapon: One of the highest concentrations of brainpower in the world. The problem is it's a secret. At least to the folks who can take great concepts and turn them into something marketable.
Organizers of the new Chesapeake Crescent Innovation Alliance say they hope to do something about that. The group -- a new alliance of five area universities as well as representatives from Virginia, Maryland and the District of Columbia -- held their inaugural meeting Tuesday at the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center in DC.
Attendees talked about building bridges over the chasm that currently exists between laboratory and marketplace.
"We are back in the first grade when it comes to connecting the dots about who are you and what do you do," said David McDonough, director of development for Johns Hopkins real estate.
Johns Hopkins is one of the members of the alliance, along with Virginia Tech, the University of Maryland System, George Mason University and George Washington University.
Often in competition for funding, faculty, students and fame, the universities have agreed to share their research and innovations and collaborate to get more ideas patented and turned into viable companies.
"This is a wakeup call that we are falling behind, that there are people out there that are competing against you, like China, India, Korea," said Edgar Harrell, managing partner of Chevy Chase-based Harrell Capital Partners, who came to make some connections.
The group began Tuesday putting committees together to begin taking inventory of current and completed research projects, technology available for licensing, research facilities, angel investors, researchers and successful entrepreneurs.
The information will be used to create a Web-based professional network for people involved with intellectual property, talent and capital. Alliance members also plan to schedule regular meetings for the research and innovation community to network.
No effort will succeed, however, without competitive funding of research facilities, several speakers noted. The alliance will also lobby for greater state investments in universities and the new collaborations that come out of their efforts.
Harvard and MIT embarked on a similar process five years ago. McDonough pointed out that even such well-heeled institutions learned a thing or two from their efforts, noting that the MIT officials were surprised to discover that there were at least 150 research-oriented companies within a five-minute walk of the campus.
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