Idaho Technology by Jeffery Sayer: IGEM pairs academics, industry to boost Idaho economy

JEFFERY SAYER, director of the Idaho Department of CommerceAugust 27, 2013 

Jeffery Sayer

With the transformation of our society from an industrial to an information-based foundation, our public policies need to evolve to meet new challenges and opportunities. To position our state competitively within the global economy, it is critical to strategically allocate resources to build a foundation of innovation success.

Herein is the reason why the Idaho Global Entrepreneurial Mission program is such a significant milestone for our state.

The vision of IGEM is to leverage private-industry guidance and Idaho’s research universities to facilitate the commercialization of ideas. Because the effort is funded by Idaho taxpayers, stakeholders are structuring the program to focus on promising technologies and research that build core competencies for our universities and increase the level of industry-sponsored research within the state.

An early success of IGEM is the catalyzed discussion within Idaho’s research universities on how they can each adjust and create industry-friendly processes to increase collaborative research efforts. Each technology transfer office within Idaho’s three research institutions has committed to refining the process in order to serve Idaho companies more effectively and efficiently.

The Idaho Legislature has appropriated $950,000 for competitive commercialization grants, and the IGEM Council recently selected its first round of fundable projects. In order to receive an IGEM grant, each university research project must have an industry partner.

The IGEM Council decided that the focus would initially be about building the universities’ research infrastructure for commercializable innovations in the future. This is why the council developed guidelines to help select research projects that are most likely to lead to long-term economic growth.

Here are two examples of investments made possible through IGEM during this last grant round:

• Commercializing Aquatic Animal Health Products. This project will help commercialize two products, a live fish vaccine and a probiotic feed additive, which will reduce fish losses in aquaculture facilities due to coldwater disease. The disease is a worldwide problem and, on average, causes 30 percent loss in the Idaho trout industry.

• Microbial Induced Calcite Precipitation. This patented technology uses microorganisms that already exist in soil to form calcite, or “bio-cement.” This presents an environmentally friendly alternative to cement and is useful where cement-based products are not usable. This project is exploring the commercial viability of using this technology to strengthen the soil around existing structures.

Because funding for federal grants is becoming more scarce, IGEM creates a solution for industry and universities to fund projects. The next round of funding is scheduled for September. If you have an idea worthy of IGEM funding, you can start the approval process through partnering with Boise State University, Idaho State University or the University of Idaho’s technology transfer offices.

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