June 17, 2009
By Margaret Sanders
Imagine how local businesses and emerging industries could grow and prosper if they could only tap into Baylor's wealth of research or take advantage of technical and training assistance from our partner institutions - in a one-stop venue.
With the creation of the BARI, the Baylor Advanced Research Institute, approved by Baylor Regents in July 2007, that concept is on its way to becoming a reality. The dynamic institute creates opportunities for Baylor students and faculty from multiple disciplines, other educational institutions, industry, business and government groups. In this environment, advanced research not only involves basic research, but also fosters long-term relationships and provides technical assistance, training and workforce development. In addition, the BARI encourages new growth in Waco.
The BARI "represents more than 25 research institutes and centers on the Baylor campus, and works closely with regional economic development organizations, providing prospective new businesses with the potential for high technology research collaboration," says Jim Kephart, director of program development for the institute. Of course, the fact that Baylor has long been at the forefront of research and has partnered with industry and other institutions is nothing new. What is new is the BARI's unique approach to identifying a client's specific needs, drawing from appropriate resources and then bringing them into play at the correct time in the development process.
"Part of the strength of the BARI concept is that it is fluid and mobile, a virtual institute at this point," says Kephart. "Looking across the spectrum of research from basic to applied efforts," he says, "the technical transfer of an intellectual property into a commercialized product involves a creative process." Once solely the domain of emerging technologies and business incubation, technology transfer is now also a necessary by-product of university research.
This is the point where the BARI can make an impact by providing research and development through assisting clients in moving products and/or technologies from idea to practical application. As part of the process toward establishing a working relationship, the BARI team first evaluates both the partner's on-going projects that may be ready to move toward commercial application and then matches these projects with the BARI's ability to provide a basic or applied research collaboration. This collaboration may be conducted in Baylor laboratories, at the partner's facilities or at another location, depending on which site is most cost effective and yields the best opportunity for successful research.
The BARI's effectiveness was further enhanced in November 2007 when Texas State Technical College Waco, the local campus of the state's technical education leader, penned as a primary partner. Through a memorandum of understanding, the two institutions agreed to work together in training, physical space and technical assistance, along with workforce development support. "The agreement draws on each partner's greatest strengths," says Carliss Hyde, TSTC Waco's director of external resource development, "and allows each institution to simply issue a statement of work and move quickly whenever an opportunity arises for a particular area of expertise."
The BARI's dynamic and holistic approach allows it to address a range of cutting-edge, multidisciplinary challenges. For instance, Kephart says the BARI is currently working with an emerging technology business that holds patent rights to a novel methane gas alternative energy process. Before taking it into the marketplace, the company needs final engineering, chemical prototyping and other research to prove the product's viability. The company also plans to draw on Baylor's business strengths with students completing a business and operations plan before referral to the BARI for final research collaboration. Should the company later require production assistance or workforce training, it can call on TSTC Waco, which specializes in those areas.
During its short existence, the BARI has already partnered with a variety of regional businesses, government agencies and educational institutions. With no defined boundaries, interdisciplinary research groups can be created as the need arises, focusing on any combination of academic disciplines.
"It's an exciting concept," Kephart says, "that offers Baylor students and faculty a wide range of cutting-edge research possibilities and helps shorten the time it takes to move new and innovative ideas from the lab into practical applications that can make a real and lasting difference in the region's economy."