IGEM grant program still in building stage

In 2012, the Idaho Department of Commerce and other supporters of the Idaho Global Entrepreneurial Mission told lawmakers that IGEM would lead to big things. They said that directing millions of dollars in grants to institutions and businesses developing technologies with commercial potential would generate spinoff companies, create new jobs, bolster research and convince the world that there’s more to Idaho than potatoes.

Those jobs and spinoff companies haven’t come yet but are now on the way, Commerce Director Jeff Sayer says. The program was modeled after the Utah Science Technology and Research Initiative, which Sayer says took more than five years to bear fruit.

In the meantime, the department soon will track partnerships between companies and universities as IGEM’s key metric. For example, the J.R. Simplot Co. provided funding and access to its crop fields to an Idaho State University research team that received an IGEM grant to advance drone use in precision agriculture.

“That’s the most important metric to track, and we’re seeing encouraging success in that regard,” Sayer says.

Sayer says several grant recipients are startups that appear poised to create jobs in the near future. One such company is GenZ Technology, a Boise firm that makes efficient crop chemical sprayers.

The grant program has also benefited some of Idaho’s biggest companies, including Micron, which partnered with a University of Idaho team that received a $150,000 IGEM grant in 2013 for developing computer memory products.

“People will be pleasantly surprised when we see successes come out of this, not only in new companies, but in existing companies,” Sayer says.