Guest blog post by Nish Acharya, Director of EDA's Office of Innovation and Entrepreneurship
This week, the U.S. Economic Development Administration’s (EDA) Denver Regional office hosted its annual University Centers Showcase conference to spotlight and critique EDA-supported University Center economic development initiatives in the Denver Region.
EDA’s University Center Economic Development Program assists institutions of higher education and consortia of institutions of higher education in establishing and operating University Centers specifically focused on leveraging university assets to build regional economic ecosystems that support high-growth entrepreneurship.I was honored to serve as one of three judges and panelists for the event.
The two-day event featured 10 University Centers that are leading the charge towards building a robust American infrastructure for innovation, entrepreneurship and economic development, with each university addressing specific challenges to their regions but also implementing the best practices that have worked well around the country.
In 2011, one hundred thirty-nine presidents of major universities signed a letter to then-Secretary of Commerce Gary Locke committing their organizations to support innovation and entrepreneurship on their campuses for students, faculty, lab technologies, regional economic development and industry collaboration. This letter reflected an emerging movement in higher education towards creating local ecosystems that nurture innovation and entrepreneurship–with the university as a natural hub. EDA’s University Centers form a critical part of this strategy. They are using the great analytical capacities of academia to understand their local economies and run programs that can help–from helping small business to strategies to alleviate the loss of key industries.
University Centers also showed great collaboration. The University of Kansas and Kansas St. have collectively gained deep insight into the Kansas economy, while also mobilizing people and resources to address those challenges through entrepreneurship and strategic policy review. The University of Wyoming University Center has launched 55 startup companies in Laramie, Wyoming in the last few years. And the North Dakota University Centers are developing strategies around innovation and entrepreneurship that reflect the unique position of their state–a low population, strong business climate, and emerging expertise in areas like biofuels and agricultural sciences.
EDA’s University Centers are at the vanguard of our nation’s economic development–able to see the future while being firmly anchored in their communities. Their success is critical to EDA’s vision of economic development and the creation of high-quality American jobs.