Last week's commentary ("An un-SIRTI future" by Robert Herold) made a case for "pulling the plug on a concept that just never took off." The concept, as stated by the author, was the idea that "SIRTI be a 'place' where our several universities would get together and do research and technology." One might say that there is no plug to pull on the SIRTI described in last week's commentary, as that out-of-date concept does not describe the real SIRTI of today.
The points that Robert Herold made about the old SIRTI may have merit, even though the "fundamental misconceptions regarding life within the academy," cited by the author, are moot issues. The SIRTI of today does attract academic scientists who work with our project partners. Some work in the SIRTI facility. Some conduct research for project partners from their own labs. Some academic scientists, such as the EWU professors that started GenPrime, themselves bring forth projects to SIRTI. Does it matter whether these professors are focused on economic development? No. Can academic research efforts further a project that will contribute toward economic development? Yes.
There's a saying that if you fly a plane looking backward, you're sure to hit a mountain in front of you. As an organization, SIRTI could choose to spend its time focusing on the past: what worked, what didn't, whose fault it was. Where would that lead us to in the future? Everyone makes a choice about how they want to "fly their plane." SIRTI is focused on working in the present to build a strong future.
SIRTI's primary client today is the small startup company with a technology-based business in the Inland Northwest. To help these companies, SIRTI provides customized business and marketing development, technology and intellectual property assessment, access to financial resources and incubator services.
SIRTI's symbiotic relationships with higher education institutions also assist in growing technology businesses. SIRTI's links with higher education mean that faculty members play a major role in many of SIRTI's project partners. SIRTI's location allows for cross-fertilization between entrepreneurial businesses and the intellectual capital of neighboring campuses, providing value to both groups. While SIRTI's academic partners share use of much of the facility, a considerable portion of space is leased to startup businesses as part of SIRTI's commercialization mission. To date, 89 higher education students have had internships at SIRTI, making significant contributions to SIRTI's project partners.
Success stories from SIRTI project partners are coming in. A few recent examples: Berkeley Instruments secured $500,000 in licensing fees with subsequent royalties; Biomedex unveiled and began shipping its new product; GenPrime "graduated" from a SIRTI lab into a commercial real estate building and secured a $500,000 private investment; Translation Technologies received $4.5 million in private investment.
Since 1996, company revenue and private investment into SIRTI project partners totals $14.5 million. This may seem an insignificant amount for large companies, but for small companies it is substantial. SIRTI was also instrumental in securing $13.2 million in new research funding for partner companies and Washington's higher education institutions. Although impact cannot be measured solely in terms of jobs, 213 jobs were created by SIRTI's project partners, with a total job impact in excess of 700, assuming standard multipliers to reflect indirect job creation due to the higher than average technology wage.
The bottom line: SIRTI has a successful track record in helping to generate new products, new businesses and new commerce through technical, management and business development services to startup and emerging businesses.
We all know the benefits that a vibrant technology community can bring. Those involved in working with new technology businesses understand that this type of development is a high-risk and sometimes long-term investment. Despite the risks associated, our region has wisely chosen to make the investment in technology. By helping businesses meet the requirements needed to bring their product to market, SIRTI increases the odds of success for all involved. One step at a time. One company at a time.
& & & lt;i & Dennis Horn is the dean of engineering at Gonzaga University and chairman of the SIRTI Board of Directors. & lt;/i & & lt;/center &