Industry-Sponsored Research Week

Walton family grants nearly $200M to U Arkansas to create new institute and build innovation culture

By David Schwartz
Published: July 21st, 2020

The University of Arkansas has been granted $194.7 million by the Walton Family Charitable Support Foundation to, among other research-focused initiatives, will establish the University of Arkansas Institute for Integrative and Innovative Research (I3R). The massive gift, according to U of Arkansas officials, will transform the research, innovation and economic development culture of the university. The grant is one of the largest single private gifts ever given to a university for advancing research and economic development.

“All transformational solutions start with questions,” said University of Arkansas Chancellor Joseph E. Steinmetz. “How does the University of Arkansas distinguish itself as a great research university among a sea of great and distinguished universities? How do we do that in a way that drives economic development and creates clear avenues for industry involvement? How do we ultimately change the culture of collaboration in such a way that it advances the research and commercialization profile and production of the university? And how do we change the way we do science on campus?

“The creation of an interdisciplinary and wholly integrative research institute was the answer,” Steinmetz stated.  

I3R is envisioned as a unique approach to research using a flexible, state-of-the-art collaborative framework to facilitate the integration of research across five overlapping innovation clusters:

  • Data science
  • Food systems and the future of food
  • Materials science and engineering
  • Bioscience and bioengineering research in metabolism
  • Integrative systems neuroscience.

The grant will also drive commercialization and entrepreneurship education. “Arkansas has long been known for its entrepreneurial spirit and as a place where businesses thrive. This grant will support the University of Arkansas as it seeks to drive innovation and transform entrepreneurship and research to commercialization for industries nationwide,” said Steuart Walton, chairman of the Walton Family Charitable Support Foundation Board.

A new I3R building will add much-needed research space and act as an interactive and integrated hub for the innovation clusters. Funding will help attract and hire 20 new faculty with established research programs and a history of external support.

The school has outline four primary goals for the grant:

  1. Increase external support for research and grow the research engine.
  2. Increase industry collaboration.
  3. Grow commercialization of university research as well as university-related entrepreneurship.
  4. Align the university’s productivity, expertise, and reputation to be competitive with the top public institutions in the country.

“The difference to the Northwest Arkansas economy we expect to realize in the next 20 to 30 years includes a significant increase in the scale and scope of the university’s research profile and reputation,” Steinmetz said. “We will realize an increase in federal research dollars expended locally, which aids the overall economy of the region and state, and is a short-term multiplier.

“The longer-term results will be seen through the attraction of a diverse group of people for whom an academic and entrepreneurial ecosystem is appealing, and who will add intellectual and creative talent to Arkansas. Increases in applied research, commercialization and resulting start-ups will also impact everything from regional quality of life to healthcare,” he added.

The grant is on top of a $23.7 million donation from the Walton Family Charitable Support Foundation that also went to support research and commercialization at the university. According to Steinmetz, that investment is already paying big dividends, including:

  • Staff addition in tech transfer and research grant development
  • A “corporate concierge” to connect industry to campus R&D capabilities
  • 14 research projects with high commercialization potential funded
  • A vibrant NSF i-Corps program
  • Gap funding of $105,000 awarded to four teams
  • A new Startup Village providing support and service to campus start-ups
  • Changes to university system IP policies that eliminated barriers to industry research sponsorship
  • A new Small Business Emergency Assistance program established in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Source: EurekAlert!

Posted under: University-Industry Engagement Week

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