University-Industry Engagement Week

UK Innovation Connect launched as a ‘dedicated’ industry partnership unit


By David Schwartz
Published: April 26th, 2022

A detailed article on the University of Kentucky’s new industry partnership program, UK Innovation Connect, appears in the April  issue of University-Industry Engagement Advisor. For subscription information, click here. 

Less than a year after the launch of UK Innovate, the University of Kentucky’s “innovation, entrepreneurship and economic enterprise for UK Research,” the university has unveiled its new industry partnership program, UK Innovation Connect (UKIC), and has also named Landon Borders as executive director of the new unit and senior associate director for Innovation Economic Development and Industry Partnerships.

UK Innovation Connect, says Borders, “was created to provide dedicated resources to support partnerships focused mainly on research and innovation and economic development for the region.” This new program, he adds, “is just part of the overall vision from the UK Innovate fabric.” That “fabric,” he explains, also includes the Office of Technology Commercialization (OTC), with a new focus on social innovation and innovation training. “It all falls under UK Innovate,” he explains.

The role of the OTC, which predated the launch of UK Innovate last July, will not change under the new model, says Taunya Phillips, director of the OTC. However, she adds, while OTC’s role will remain the same in the university’s overall pursuit of commercializing its innovations and its outreach to industry, “the opportunities that will flow from industry outreach will increase OTC’s activity across the board, from IP protection to commercialization and licensing.”

In seeking to expand UK’s industry engagement activity, Borders says he and his team will be “hitting the streets” over the next few months, meeting with researchers, staff, industry partners, and industry peers “to see how to provide the best service possible for the university.” At the end of the day, he adds, “we want to continue to find ways that UK research and innovators can make a bigger impact here and across the region.” Borders says he has some ideas about what this should look like, “but it’s really important out of the gate to first get to know them and listen to them.”

He feels his 20 years of experience in industry, and specifically partnering with UK in his former roles, better positions him to accomplish his goals. “I partnered with UK in so many different ways — whether it be talent, projects, shared spaces or collaborations — [and] I understand where we have had success in the past, and where the pain points exist,” he explains. “With all the great resources we have under this umbrella, I really see the opportunity to solve problems.”

One of the keys to future success, he continues, will be his ability to speak the “languages” of both academia and industry.

“We are so different — we really do speak in different languages — and I hope my perspective and experience are ones that bring these two amazing groups together — for the state, the region, and the world,” says Borders. “A lot of times I see on the university side some really amazing technologies that do not resonate with the problems of industry — a lot of amazing basic research that does not solve industry problems. A good way to address that is by really trying to connect — not only our researchers with industry but connecting research to industry problems.”

He’d like to see UK researcher spend more time understanding and focusing on industry-driven problems and overcoming some industry assumptions about working with academia. “I’ve heard a lot of anecdotes about frustration in industry [with academia] not understanding what problems need to be solved,” he comments.

The bottom line, Borders says, is “if you are not crystal clear on what exactly needs to be solved, you’ll find yourself with a solution that does not solve the problem — that does not create the value you need to provide. You really must spend a lot of time understanding those problems.”

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Posted under: University-Industry Engagement Week