Maturing the Innovation-to-Market Ecosystem in Arkansas (Guest Post)

August 26th, 2015 by Jerry Adams

Jerry Adams, president and CEO of the Arkansas Research Alliance, contributed this post to L2L.

Over the past 10-12 years, Arkansas has made major progress in maturing the important building blocks of a knowledge-based economy – innovation/entrepreneurship development, risk capital availability, commercialization/deployment, and new business development.

Graphic: L2L Guest Post by Jerry AdamsThis same focus and concentration is happening in other states as well. So there is an urgency to focus policymakers, educators, and industry around the requirement to be innovative and solution-focused for the sustainability of the current economy as well as the future economy in Arkansas.

Into this puzzle comes the Arkansas Research Alliance with its focus on recruiting, retaining, and leveraging innovative university-based research talent for economic impact in Arkansas. ARA was modeled after a very successful program in Georgia, the Georgia Research Alliance. GRA is around 24 years old, and ARA is just starting its eighth year of operation.

ARA evolved from the strategic visioning of Accelerate Arkansas back in 2007. Its board consists of chancellors from five Arkansas institutions (UAF, UAMS, UALR, UAPB, and ASU) plus 16 CEOs from Arkansas-based companies. The research institutions represent where over 90 percent of the federal research grants go in Arkansas.

Talent and innovation are two critical ingredients of a better world. How to make something new, improved, revolutionary requires an understanding of the current state of challenges and then how to solve or improve. Universities are filled with bright, intelligent scholars; a small percentage of these professors are research leaders and interested in solving major research challenges but rarely do they have the skills to get these solutions to the market. 

The challenge in the university setting is how to get the innovation out of the lab to the market. ARA’s two primary programs are the Scholars program and the Fellows program.

Focused on recruiting new research leaders to Arkansas in research areas that have been identified as high-impact research areas by the Battelle report of 2009, the ARA Scholars program launched in 2010 and has recruited seven ARA Scholars. Governor Hutchinson hosted a press conference Aug. 13 to welcome the two newest ARA Scholars to Arkansas.

ARA Fellows, launched in 2014, identifies research leaders already in Arkansas at one of the member universities who have distinguished themselves based on criteria similar to the ARA Scholars requirements. Both the ARA Scholars and ARA Fellows programs are directed through the chancellor’s offices of the member universities. The ARA Board of Trustees approves all of the ARA program applications.

Since 2013, with an official partnership agreement with the Food and Drug Administration, ARA has worked closely with the federal lab, National Center for Toxicological Research, in Jefferson, Ark. NCTR employs approximately 700 people, with approximately 170 PhDs focused on advanced research on toxicity of food and drugs.

The role ARA fills is focused on multi-campus collaboration around key research areas that have economic impact. The two areas of concentration – the ARA programs and the FDA partnership – have very similar attributes of multi-campus engagements centered around core research areas in Arkansas where nationally competitive research can lead to breakthrough innovation that, over time, will lead to commercialization and major economic impact.

For further information on the Arkansas Research Alliance, check the ARA website or email