Commerce director: NDSU and UND should do more to 'commercialize' research

Feb 23, 2018

Pamela York, Capita 3, speaks to the State Board of HIgher Education meeting in Bismarck.
Credit Dave Thompson / Prairie Public

The director of North Dakota’s Commerce Department wants the North Dakota University System to put more emphasis on “technology transfer” from the two big research universities.

Jay Schuler told the Board of Higher Education – North Dakota can do better when it comes to having research become commercial. Schuler said other states – like Minnesota and Iowa -- are doing it – and North Dakota has a great potential to do more.

"If it's not commercialized, then it sits on a shelf," Schuler said in an interview. "You and I as taxpayers have paid for this. The researcher has a framed patent on the wall, but a lot of them are really roads to nowhere."

He asked the Board to support the creation of a plan to do just that, and take it to the state Legislature.

Schuler said the Legislature will likely be asked to add staff to NDSU and UND for this purpose.

"We want the silo, the barrier to come down, so there are interactions," Schuler said. He also believes this will attract more private money to the universities.

A consultant who has worked with a number of universities on commercializing research says North Dakota has great opportunities to do that.          

Pamela York is the CEO of Capita 3 of Minneapolis. Her company works to fund women-led start-up companies. She told the North Dakota State Board of Higher Education the two research universities – NDSU and UND – could partner with start up companies, who could use their research. York said to make it happen, there has to be an internal high-level champion for technology commercialization.

"You need someone with an "X" on their back who believes in this, and is a real driver of results," York said in an interview. She also said in the commercial world, you have to have someone to be a champion of private investment sources.

"Somebody has to take it on themselves, and bring people into the fold who can increase those sources of capital," York said.

York said NDSU and UND have already done some work in this area, and there's the potential to do a lot more.

"The performance is probably not where you might like," York said. "But there are reasons for that, and there is so much to capitalize on."

York said it could be in agriculture, engineering , health sciences and medicine. She said there really is a lot that the two universities could turn into commercial successes.

"It just requires a focus, a commitment and some additional resources," York said. "Pretty great things can happen."

Schuler said the Legislature will likely be asked to add staff to NDSU and UND for this purpose.