The University of Nebraska-Lincoln's Innovation Campus is described as a place where private sector partners will work hand-in-hand with UNL researchers. Located on the old state fairgrounds, Innovation Campus is in very early stages of development. Listen to Mike Tobias' radio Signature Story for an update on the project and comparisons to North Carolina State University's Centennial Campus, a model for the UNL project. Below is more of Tobias' interviews with UNL leaders Harvey Perlman and Prem Paul about Innovation Campus and the recruiting of partners for the project.
MIKE TOBIAS, NET NEWS: How do you get partners involved with Innovation Campus?
HARVEY PERLMAN, UNIVERSITY OF NEBRASKA-LINCOLN CHANCELLOR: Our first efforts will be to inventory those kinds of relationships with companies or other kinds of research and other activities that we're doing that are likely to be attractive to private sector partners. And then move to identify those partners and to contact them. We're not starting from scratch. We've had an effort underway for the last three or four years to build some relationships with private companies and I suspect we'll explore some of those relationships as well.
TOBIAS: So some of those initial contacts will come from pre-existing research relationships?
SLIDESHOW: images of the former State Fairgrounds and architect drawings of what the area could look like as home to Innovation Campus.
PERLMAN: Right. We'll do some national marketing and some targeting marketing. Our theme is food, fuel, and water and we certainly know companies that are interested in that. And we'll do some of that marketing, but it'll be much more targeted than just putting our name in the New York Times and saying we're open for business.
TOBIAS: Is it to some degree the sort of thing that we see in economic development or other forms of highly competitive recruiting where there is no standard sort of deal that comes with this, that it depends on the partner?
PERLMAN: I expect that to be true. I expect each of these will be individual deals. Companies are going to come if they think it gets to their mutual interests to come and companies will have varying degrees of interest in how they relate to the University and the trick in these is to be flexible so that we can respond to the interests as they're displayed to us.
TOBIAS: Flexible in what way?
PERLMAN: Flexible in terms of our expectations for them on the property. Flexibility with respect to the kinds of facilities they need. Flexibility as to what kind of resources they want to access at the University. You know, I think you have to look at these as individual deals and whatever is required and whatever makes sense obviously from the interest of the University that you have to do.
TOBIAS: Is this something that if it works the way it's supposed to work could be transformational for the University?
PERLMAN: My hope is it's transformational for the state of Nebraska more than for the University. We're going to do research and we continue to do research. I think it will change the culture of the University in the sense that people will start to think about how we can partner with the private sector to accomplish things that we couldn't accomplish on our own. And I think that process is already happening. So in that sense it will move the University forward. We may have research opportunities because of our interactions with private sector companies than we wouldn't have had before. A significant amount of our research is funded by the private sector. But I'm hoping it transforms the state of Nebraska in that it displays how with some kinds of investments that you can in fact build economic growth in a state like Nebraska, build on you know, primarily on agriculture, on food, water, fuel.
CLICK HERE to watch a "fly through" that shows what Nebraska's Innovation Campus could look like (courtesy: UNL)
TOBIAS: Is it a competitive environment when you're approaching companies about being partners with Innovation Campus?
PREM PAUL, UNIVERSITY OF NEBRASKA-LINCOLN VICE CHANCELLOR FOR RESEARCH AND ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT: I think that everybody understands that in order to be competitive globally, it will have to be through research and then this partnership between private and public sector who can work that research into jobs. A lot of companies, big international companies, they have understood that in order for them to have a pipeline of inventions, they need to partner with the universities. Because that's where the new discoveries come from.
SLIDESHOW: a look at North Carolina State's Centennial Campus, one model for UNL's Innovation Campus project.
TOBIAS: Have you had a certain number of companies approaching you? Or is most of the leg work, initial leg work being done with you approaching them?
PAUL: It's both ways. We are exploring opportunities and we hear through our contacts of some interest and then we certainly pursue those.
TOBIAS: Is it hard to be able to preach the patience that has to come with a project like this?
PAUL: Absolutely. Everybody is very impatient and they would like to see Innovation Campus be filled tomorrow. That's great. I think people are excited about this project because they see the tremendous impact that it'll have and not only in Lincoln, but throughout Nebraska.
TOBIAS: If you had to look out and say, at this point in time I think we will probably see this project having an impact on the campus. How long would you say it's going to be?
PAUL: Well, it's hard to predict, but I think in five years you certainly will start seeing something that people will say, oh yeah, you know, this is great. But eventually, as we said right from the beginning, that really to realize the full vision, it is going to take 20 years.
TOBIAS: So what is the "elevator pitch" for Innovation Campus?
PAUL: The elevator pitch is that University of Nebraska-Lincoln is very strong in food, fuel, and water. We also have other strengths. We have the desire to partner with industry, to translate the research inventions into jobs. So the companies can benefit. They make products and make money and we can help Nebraska be a stronger economy and keep our young people here. So that's our pitch.