Using state policy to promote the commercialization of university research
Crane, Patrick Brent
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Although state governments have had a long-standing interest in university research and development, in was in the early 1980s that state governments began to develop policies that explicitly incorporate university researchers into economic development programs. Since 1983, over twenty states have implemented programs or policies designed to attract so-called star scientists capable of bringing in external funds through research grants or the commercialization of research. In order to better understand the factors that lead a state to develop an economic development policy focused on university research, the impact such a policy can have on a state and its public higher education institutions, and the effectiveness of these policies as economic development tools, this study closely examines the development and implementation of the West Virginia Research Trust Fund. Created by West Virginia Senate Bill 287 during the 2008 regular session of the West Virginia Legislature, the West Virginia Research Trust Fund is a $50 million directed research endowment that provides funding for the state’s two research universities to promote research-based economic development, increased patenting and related technology transfer and commercialization of scientific and technological research in the state. This study concludes that executive branch support, influential policy entrepreneurs and a strong legislative advocate are all necessary for a policy supporting university research commercialization to become implemented. Once a program is in place, however, the alignment between donor interests and university strategic plans becomes a critical factor in fundraising success. This research also finds that the while this policy clearly supports academic capitalism at the two universities, more radical forms of academic capitalism were less successful in raising funds than more moderate forms. Finally, this research finds that although the West Virginia Research Trust Fund program successfully increased fundraising at Marshall University and West Virginia University, its impact on increased commercialization, job creation and economic development are quite limited.