Research efforts seek industry backing

The University’s first assistant vice president for industry research will lead the effort to find research capital from the private sector as the federal funding pool becomes increasingly over-tapped.

Alumnus Tom Russo is tasked with fostering connections between faculty and representatives from corporations as a way to raise money and support for the University’s research.

“Research has an insatiable appetite for funding, and we need to look at creative ways to share this cost with other parties,” Russo said.

Vice President for Research Leo Chalupa said late last month that the University can no longer rely solely on federal agencies for funding research, and instead needs to build up corporate backing for research to make the faculty’s academic work more relevant in the business world.

In fiscal year 2009, about 90 percent of the University’s research and development expenditures came from federal sources, according to data from the National Science Foundation. Another 6 percent came from institutional funding. But with federal agencies like the National Institutes of Health pulling back the amount of funding offered to universities nationally, more colleges are looking to outside sources for support.

“Industry has had to take up much of this slack, and if GW is to be a world-class research leader, we need to collaborate with industry to bring new technologies into the marketplace,” Russo said.

From fiscal year 2008 to 2009, industry-sponsored spending for university research increased by nearly 12 percent nationally, according to National Science Foundation data.

In selecting Russo for the role, Chalupa said, “His depth and breadth of experience, combined with the local and international networks he has established over the course of his career, make him an excellent candidate for this position.”

Russo, a longtime D.C.-area resident who received an MBA from the University in 1975, served as an executive vice president at MMI Genomics in Beltsville, Md. for the last seven years. He has also held several posts as chief financial officer in financial management and biomedical firms.

With what he called an “international palette,” Russo looks to capitalize on his professional experiences abroad as well as the University’s internationally poised location.

“There are fascinating technologies around the world that need to be analyzed and refined to identify practical applications,” he said. “GW can be a conduit to help these companies gain acceptance and credibility in the U.S.”

Russo will work closely with the Office of Entrepreneurship, which oversees the licensing of research produced at the University, to identify research that may be of interest to companies and to find companies that are interested in sponsoring research.

The link between industry and academia will allow businesses to source out studies for new products and issues, such as car crash safety and climate change.

Jim Chung, director of the Office of Entrepreneurship, said corporate-sponsored research is valuable because it provides greater prospects for eventual commercialization.

“Technology transfer is about getting inventions out of the lab and into real-world use,” he said.

Research’s ability to attract top faculty and contribute to students’ intellectual growth makes it an integral part of a college education, Russo said.

As the University moves toward becoming a leading research institution, backing from industry will help propel broad efforts for innovation forward, he said.

“While the Board of Trustees exhibited great wisdom in setting research as a priority many years ago, it is more prescient in today’s economic environment,” Russo said. “If this country is to grow, we need to continue to be innovators and leaders in new technologies.”

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