Research parks are important institutions for bridging the gap between research and commercialization, or the actual production of innovative technologies. They turn published articles into tangible products, words into actions.
That's why the University of Houston changed the name of its 74-acre Energy Research Park to UH Technology Bridge. It is literally bridging the gap in what those in the innovation ecosystem, such as UH's Vice President of Research and Technology Transfer Amr Elnashai, call the "valley of death."
“Before the 'valley of death,' there is a professor who has an idea, she or he has a research student and they are working on something intellectually challenging. Imagine that is the left side of your room, and to the right side of your room is the commercial piece. There is a product that is already operational and there's some sort of market need for it. The valley of death is between the two," Elnashai said. "The researcher has now published the papers, and they are no longer interested in the technical challenge. The industry side is not ready to pick up this research idea because there are too many steps that they are not prepared for before this idea becomes a product. This is the 'valley of death' that the UH Technology Bridge is trying to bridge: from the end of intellectual excitement to the beginning of the production manufacturing.”
The Technology Bridge is part of a five-year master plan to better keep up with Houston's growing innovation ecosystem. Elnashai said the demand for this kind of market outweighs the supply, so this research park will include a multitude of industries, including medical application startups, oil and gas technologies and aerospace startups. The park will also include significant laboratory space, which is "a missing piece in the Houston innovation ecosystem."
"We’re interested in these [industries] not only because these are the most important aspects of the Houston ecosystem, but also because of the interest from the faculty at the University of Houston," he said. "We want to focus on startups that are willing and able to engage with our students and faculty; we do not want to end up being landlords for startups. We want to go beyond that.”
UH administrators anticipate The Technology Bridge to create $1 billion in cumulative economic development for Houston over the five-year period by bringing five additional large industrial partners, an additional 25 startups and three new research collaborations to the facility. There are already 15 startups located there: Advanced Lipid Consultants, Alchemy Sciences, Critical X Solutions, Dexmat, Drylet, Integricote, KadVax, Metabocentric Biotechnologies, RevoChem, Sensytec, Teomics, Trucke, Vyripharm Biopharmaceuticals and two additional companies that have leases under negotiation, which cannot be released until the final agreements are signed.
“After already playing a key role in the development of the technology innovation frontier in Houston, UH is upping its game in a way that makes this UH alum very proud,” said Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner in a press release. “The UH Technology Bridge is a leap that will contribute significantly to Houston’s rapid growth as the next fertile ground in the U.S. for digital technology breakthroughs, startups and incubation work among public and private groups.”
Another reason for the name change, according to Elnashai, is because the original name limited the range and abilities of what UH is offering.
“With the name Energy Research Park, it implies that if you are working on biomedical research or pharmacy applications or anything else, then this is not the place for you. Either you work on energy or you are not within our scope, and this is not the case," Elnashai said. "The Technology Bridge shows that we are not in a particular sector. We are not really a research park, what it really is a bridge from research to commercialization.”
UH President Renu Khator said she believes the Technology Bridge aligns with UH's mission and the importance the university puts on research.
“As Houston’s large public research university and center for innovation, our mission is to support the needs of the workforce and serve as an engine of economic development,” she said in a press release. “Refocusing our expertise and facilities on emerging technology will put businesses in a better position to succeed and Houston in a better position to compete globally.”