Step inside the doors of the Galleria at the University of South Florida Research Park on a sunny day and your eye will immediately be drawn to the walls: Rows of hundreds of polished wood plaques emblazoned with deep bronze U.S. patents line the bright, white space. Above your head along the span of an atrium, images of the giants of innovation who have called Florida home – Thomas Edison, Henry Ford and John Gorrie just to name the few –and new inventors who impact the way we live today grace the home of the Florida Inventors Hall of Fame.
Invention and innovation at the University of South Florida loom large and are growing bigger by the day. In an era that will surely be known for the rise of the knowledge economy, USF has become recognized internationally as a leader in turning research into new technologies, medicines, and products used worldwide. At the dynamic main research campus in Tampa, as well as USF St. Petersburg and USF Sarasota-Manatee, invention is not treated as just an accidental byproduct of research, it’s encouraged and revered.
“Each new patent represents our commitment to research, discovery and creativity that solves global problems, expands our economy and opens new doors of opportunity for others,” says USF System President Judy Genshaft. Since she arrived to lead the USF System in 2000, President Genshaft has advanced a strategic vision of a globally-engaged research university that powers regional economic development.
Since she arrived to lead the USF System in 2000, President Genshaft has advanced a strategic vision of a globally-engaged researched university that powers regional economic development.
From lab to patent to new products, the University of South Florida System has been identified as one of the fastest rising research universities in the nation based on the National Science Foundation’s annual gauge of research activity. USF consistently ranks in the top 10 of American public universities and in the top 20 of global universities in generating new U.S. patents.
USF innovation is now found in scores of products on the market – from nutritional supplements under the brand names NutraStem and Keto//OS, to rehabilitation technologies to assist people with disabilities, to medical devices that are modernizing healthcare and new technologies to purify air and water, or to produce jetfuel. Averaging nearly a dozen new startups a year, USF faculty and students produce scores of ideas and inventions that reach testing or prototype stage annually.
Florida Inventors Hall of Fame inductees Paul Sanberg, Shyam Mohapatra, Yogi Goswami and Richard Gitlin all head active labs at USF exploring new treatments and discoveries in neurosciences, cancer treatment, clean energy and wireless technology.
And it’s no accident that one of USF’s most successful startups focuses on elevating the profile of academic inventors itself: The National Academy of Inventors®, a non-profit member organization comprising U.S. and international universities, and governmental and non-profit research institutes. The NAI has more than 4,000 individual inventor members and Fellows spanning more than 250 institutions worldwide.
The NAI was founded in 2010 to recognize and encourage inventors with patents issued from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, enhance the visibility of academic technology and innovation, encourage the disclosure of intellectual property, educate and mentor innovative students, and translate the inventions of its members to benefit society. The NAI also publishes the widely-read journal Technology and Innovation.
The breadth of USF innovation has a measurable impact on the economy: The Washington Economics Group estimates that more than 3,000 jobs are generated by USF spinoff and startup companies, as well as the fledgling companies in the Tampa Bay Technology Incubator housed at the USF Research Park. The economic impact of USF innovation is estimated at $400 million annually.
So how did USF become part of the global innovation ecosystem? It’s been built into its DNA since day one.
As a metropolitan university, USF was founded in 1956 to produce the talent that would help the economy in the Tampa Bay Region and across Florida keep pace with the booming population. With its growing research strengths in the life sciences, sustainability and technology, the USF System emerged at the forefront of an important global trend where research universities have become a crucial source of innovation and invention that fuels the economy. USF decided to take academic innovation, though, one step further by being one of the first universities in the nation to give faculty added incentives to invest their time in inventing products and technologies. A culture of innovation has fully taken root.
“USF has been one of the leaders in changing how these efforts are viewed. Faculty now have the opportunity to include those activities in their work, and be rewarded for their success,” said Sanberg, USF’s Senior Vice President for Research, Innovation & Knowledge Enterprise. “They can be great teachers. They can be basic scientists and scholars and publish their work. Or they can engage with the community and engage in commercialization.”
The USF System has built research strength in areas that are significant in creating more vibrant communities and growing the economy, such as brain and spinal cord science, heart health, data science, human security, water and research translation.
This emphasis on innovation provides a rich learning environment where creative and inventive faculty can teach students to tap into their unique capacity to be innovative and entrepreneurial. USF’s Office of Corporate Partnerships is the front door into the University Of South Florida System to make it even easier for the private sector to work with faculty in creating research projects, internship programs, and bringing new inventions to market.
USF achievements also are driving a bigger picture of Florida’s future. The Florida Board of Governors has created the special category of Preeminent State Research Universities, a designation that brings with it millions of dollars to strategically build research strengths in programs that can grow the economy.
USF is an anchor institution in the Florida High Tech Corridor, joining University of Florida and University of Central Florida to leverage the region’s inventive spirit. For much of the past decade, the three Corridor universities have collectively topped the patent portfolios of university groups in the established high tech hubs of North Carolina’s Research Triangle and the Silicon Hills region in Austin, Texas.