LEXINGTON, Ky. (Oct. 29, 2013) — A University of Kentucky spin-off company is among those highlighted in a new national report released today by The Science Coalition.
"Every dollar of federal funds that is invested in research returns many dollars more, both in terms of immediate economic activity and in long-term dividends," said James W. Tracy, UK vice president for research. "It is critical to the economic health of Kentucky, and of the United States, that our nation continues to invest strongly in the basic research that leads to innovation and job creation."
In fiscal year 2013, external research grants and contracts contributed $367.1 million to the Kentucky economy, including $194.4 million in personal income. Externally supported research accounted for 9,427 jobs at UK and throughout Kentucky. Each dollar of out-of-state external funding for research generates approximately $1.90 of total related expenditures.
The basic scientific research that gives rise to companies like Hummingbird Nano, and spurs the economy in many other ways, is jeopardized by the current funding environment, Tracy said. Federal funding for research and development has been on a downward trend for the past decade, with funding levels in 2013 at historic lows.
Sequestration, which began in March 2013, is set to run through 2021 and will wring an additional $95 billion from federal research budgets over this period. This national disinvestment in science will have real consequences. As the Sparking Economic Growth 2.0 companies illustrate, research and the transformative discoveries that flow from it often require sustained funding over many years to yield results.
Hummingbird Nano is an example. The initial research that led to the company's founding was undertaken at UK with approximately $300,000 in funding from the National Science Foundation and the Department of Education. From 2000-2007, researchers worked to develop a new manufacturing system that maintains extreme tolerances and precision to mass produce micro-sized molded plastic and glass parts. The technology was further developed for commercialization for another five years, from 2007-2012, under the auspices of Hummingbird's predecessor company, AMT Nano LLC.
The September 2012 launch of Hummingbird Nano signaled a transition from research and development to a commercial enterprise centered on precision-molded components for the telecommunications, biotechnology, aerospace, energy and defense industries.
“The basic research into the limitations of existing machinery revealed the direction for new processes and machines," said L. Scott Stephens, chair of the UK Department of Mechanical Engineering and Hummingbird co-founder. "The result is a manufacturing system for the mass production of micro-sized parts and assemblies with unparalleled precision. Our technology enables products that could not be produced economically before to be produced in quantities exceeding 100 million annually."
University research and the companies born from such research are a driving force behind much of the innovation in the United States. They are bringing forward innovations with the potential to transform industries and solve some of the world’s greatest problems. Since industry conducts relatively little basic research today (about 20 percent), the “seed corn” produced at research universities is essential to U.S. industry and its ability to compete.
Research universities like UK play an important role in the creation and future success of spin-off companies, providing a nurturing environment and critical assistance to researcher-entrepreneurs aiming to bring research discoveries to the marketplace.
"UK has successfully fostered new companies and emerging technologies through our business incubator the Advanced Science & Technology Commercialization Center, better known as ASTeCC," Tracy said.
Forty-three companies have "graduated" from ASTeCC since 1994. For companies that have outgrown ASTeCC, UK subleases larger laboratory and office spaces or assists with identifying available locations for lease in privately owned buildings at the Coldstream Research Campus. Hummingbird Nano is just one of 66 organizations at Coldstream, where more than 2,000 employees work in biotechnology, pharmaceuticals, equine health and a variety of other industry sectors.
The Science Coalition is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization of more than 50 of the nation’s leading public and private research universities, including UK. It is dedicated to sustaining the federal government’s investment in basic scientific research as a means to stimulate the economy, spur innovation and drive America’s global competitiveness.
The new Science Coalition report is available at www.sciencecoalition.org/successstories
. An accompanying database provides access to company profiles and allows users to sort companies by federal funding agency, university affiliation, type of innovation and other criteria.