University-Industry Engagement Week

K-State rebrands research partnership cluster as Edge Collaboration District

By David Schwartz
Published: October 27th, 2020

A detailed article on Kansas State’s rebranding and build-out of its industry collaboration district appears in the October issue of University-Industry Engagement Advisor. For subscription information, click here.

What’s in a name? A lot more than you might think. A geographic area formerly known as the North Campus of Kansas State University is now being called the “Edge Collaboration District,” but the move is much more than a mere name change; it involves a rebranding that more accurately describes and defines the ongoing mission of an area where corporate, technical and research partners have come together and, hopefully, will do so in even greater strength and with clearer definition as the future unfolds. As the university recently put it, the Edge District is “where industry, K-State research and the creation of workforce talent come together to produce meaningful innovations and real outcomes for Kansas and beyond, inspired by the university’s land-grant mission.”

“When I look at what was traditionally known as the North Campus Corridor, it was never meant to be a long-serving name; it was nothing more than a geographic name for us and our city partners to talk about when investments were made,” says Greg Willems, CEO and President of KSU Foundation, a partner with the university in the district. “By adding more property and engaging more companies over the past decade, it was well past time that we have a brand identity that represents what we have created to achieve here.”

Willems points to $2 billion in current and planned infrastructure, more than 10 industry partners, the involvement of six academic colleges (Agriculture, Veterinary Medicine, Arts & Sciences, Engineering, Business and Entrepreneurship Center, Health & Human Sciences) and more than 5,000 jobs created by 2035. This includes a federal facility (USDA’s National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility, or NBAF) and 120,000 square feet of commercial space.

“I see us as a partner as it relates to value through philanthropy, and connection with alumni; we’ve become a natural partner by nature of our business,” he says. “We constantly engage companies and enterprises that have research and talent; over 40 of our staff of 140 are front-line in fundraising development engagement and talk weekly to companies.”

He envisions the foundation as a “concierge” to bring companies to the university. “When I think of the brand, we think we’re here to create a competitive edge for companies that want to co-locate here and work with [the university] on their next innovation to help them be successful — which our research and faculty will help them do,” he says. “Their ability to interact with other companies and entrepreneurs will help them grow and advance as an enterprise.”

It’s also clear that the commitment from NBAF was another key driver of the need to transform the area. “When this all got started (more than four years ago), creating infrastructure around the new NBAF facility and finding resources to do that really meant thinking about how, after building a $1.25-billion facility and having concrete trucks go up the roads for 18 months, having infrastructure improvements for traffic flow, it ultimately became more than just roads and traffic signals and pedestrian pathways. It was a different, new and exciting ecosystem around the lab facilities really focused in one area and creating a strategic plan,” shares Peter Dorhout, Kansas State University vice president for research.

“So, we have this brand-new national lab, and everyone says it will be great to have accessibility for all partnership companies that come in and want to work with them,” he continues. “That simply can’t happen in the part of the campus where this is being built without really thinking not just about infrastructure, but also about the whole vision for a collaborative ecosystem that would enable folks to interface with research, students, labs, and facilities — all brought together within roughly a square mile. We realized we had to come up with something a little more creative than that — something that would portray this view of a space where people wanted to come and work with the university and with a national lab.”

The message is clearly resonating with at least one of the corporate partners, Topcon Agriculture, a division of Topcon Positioning Systems. “The naming convention change really helps people understand the vision,” notes Jared Ochs, global product manager for the company’s TAP/Agricultural IoT offerings. “It’s not just one building with a few tenants inside. It’s broader, with multiple buildings, and a larger community of innovative, commercializable companies like ourselves.”

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Posted under: University-Industry Engagement Week