The Utah Science Technology and Research initiative (USTAR) aims to strengthen Utah’s “knowledge economy,” generating high-paying jobs and expanding the tax base for the state of Utah.
To date, the state-funded investment initiative has bolstered the innovation infrastructure of Utah, increased the human capital devoted to research, and demonstrated success in technology and commercialization.
Funded in March 2006 the initiative focuses on:
• Recruiting top-level researchers to Utah’s two research university, the University of Utah (U of U) and Utah State University (USU)
• Building two state-of-the art LEED Gold Certified interdisciplinary research and development facilities at the U of U and USU campuses (dedicated in 2010 and 2012)
• Deploying Technology Outreach Innovation Program (TOIP) teams statewide to spur collaboration between higher education and business
Since 2006, the U of U and USU have attracted more than 50 highly regarded scientists and engineers working in the broadly defined fields of life sciences, nanotechnology, energy, biomedical and neuroscience innovations and digital media.
These USTAR funded researchers have proven adept at raising millions of dollars in research funding, building world-class research teams comprised of undergraduate, graduate and post-doctoral students. They are forming new ventures based on their respective technologies bringing more than $400 million in new funding to the state.
• USTAR U of U researcher, Rajesh Menon has developed a novel photovoltaic device that substantially increases the power harnessed by solar panels, achieving levels not currently possible. This technology can be applied to existing solar panel designs increasing power output as high as 42%.
• USTAR U of U researcher, Gianluca Lazzi, has been part of a research team developing a bionic eye device. This device was approved by the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) in February 2013 to be distributed within the United States. The device, named Argus II Retinal Prosthesis System or Argus II, for short, will help those with retinal damage regain some measure of sight.
• A USU research team has teamed up to improve the accuracy of severe weather forecasting by creating a satellite program called Sounding Tracking Observatory for Regional Meteorology (STORM). The first STORM sensor, set to launch in 2016 and currently being built in Logan, Utah, will soon sit across the Asia- Pacific region roughly 22,000 miles above the Earth’s surface.
The innovative sensors represent collaboration between USU, the Advanced Weather Systems Foundation (AWS), and industry partners GeoMetWatch and Asia Satellite Telecommunications Company Limited (AsiaSat).
• WAVE Technologies, Inc., a USU spin-out company has worked in cooperation with the USTAR’s Advanced Transportation Institute at USU to develop a first-of-its-kind electric bus that is charged through wireless technology. The technology is based on the work of Hunter Wu, Ph.D. and a USTAR researcher.
Wu and his team developed a prototype, which has been fitted to the Aggie Bus and was launched November 2012.
The Aggie Bus is the first bus developed and designed by a North American organization that is charged with wireless power transfer technology and is the world’s first electric bus with WPT technology.
The bus features a power level of up to 25 kilowatts, greater than 90 percent efficiency from the power grid to the battery and a maximum misalignment of up to six inches.
WAVE, in partnership with the Utah Transit Authority, will launch its first commercial demonstration on the U of U campus in November 2013 and will feature a 40-foot transit bus on a public transit route and an increase in wireless power transfer charging from 25 kilowatts to 50 kilowatts.
• WaterJet International, working with UVU TOIP, has developed a new take on the dental drill called WaterJet. WaterJet provides an engineered stream of water 1/7 the thickness of a traditional dental drill. The WaterJet enables dentists to be incredibly precise when removing tooth decay and, of great interest to patients, eliminates drilling sounds and vibrations.
WaterJet was awarded a USTAR Technology Commercialization Grant by USTAR’s Central Technology Outreach Innovation Program (TOIP) to design and produce the first operable prototypes, getting their product to market launch.
• The Federal Government’s Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (SSTR) grant programs are specifically designed for small entrepreneurial technology-driven enterprises. USTAR opened the SBIR-STTR Assistance Center (SSAC) in 2008.
The SSAC is Utah’s source for information and assistance in preparing and submitting SBIR-STTR applications helping more than 100 Utah businesses and innovators and securing nearly $9 million in federal grants to the state across 20 awards.
USTAR financed the majority of the construction of the James L. Sorenson Molecular Biotechnology Building—a USTAR Innovation Center at the U of U and its sister facility—the USTAR BioInnovations Center at USU.
The U of U’s James L Sorenson Molecular Biotechnology Building—A USTAR Innovation Center—is the centerpiece of a visionary plan to accelerate research, development and commercialization at the interfaces of medicine, engineering, pharmacy, science and digital media. Opened in April 2012, this LEED Gold 208,000 sf building contains wet lab and research computing space. It also includes a state-of-the-art nanofabrication facility with 18,000 sf of cleanroom space, a biobay and 5,300 sf microscopy and materials characterization suite.
In 2010, USU dedicated its USTAR BioInnovations Center, with more than 118,000 square feet (sf) of lab space to support synthetic bio manufacturing, advanced human nutrition, veterinary diagnostics and infections disease and other innovation areas. The LEED Gold certified building includes a BioSafety Level 3+ laboratory.
Technology Outreach Innovation Program
With USTAR researchers in residence at the U of U and USU, USTAR also created the Technology Outreach Innovation Program (TOIP) to help commercialize USTAR researchers innovations as spinout companies and provide business development support to regional startups throughout the state.
The program is led by four directors who each head an outreach center located at one of the state’s higher educational institutions: Weber State University, Utah State University-Uintah Basin, Utah Valley University and Dixie State University.
USTAR’s TOIP team stimulates technology-based economic development in Utah and coordinates efforts between the academic and private sector, as well as government stakeholders, where such coordination did not previously take place.
Impact and Recognition
In September 2013, USTAR was awarded the Expanding Research Capacity award by the State Science and Technology Institute (SSTI). The Excellence in Technology Based Economic Development awards are given to organizations who serve as national models for states and regions investing in science, technology and innovation to grow their economies and create high-paying jobs. “Since its inception in 2006, USTAR has enhanced Utah’s research capacity by skillfully connecting private, public and higher education assets in the state,” said Dan Berglund, SSTI president & CEO.
USTAR has been nationally recognized as a national best practice. The Milken Institute ranked Utah the number one state in the Technology Concentration and Dynamism Composite index. In addition to this ranking USTAR was cited in a U.S. Chamber of Commerce report as a contributing factor in Utah being named number three among all states in overall economic performance- with innovation, entrepreneurship and infrastructure as key focus areas of the report.
Along with these accolades, Utah has also garnered the number two ranking in the Inc.500 per capita index, according to the data from the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation.