Minnesota Science Park (or at least the idea) makes its debut

The wrapping is off. What’s inside looks pretty good — at least on paper.

Organizers of the planned Minnesota Science Park officially unveiled plans for the 32-acre, one million-square-foot private research park adjacent to the University of Minnesota’s Biomedical Discovery District.

As first reported by MedCity News in February, the park will feature the Minnesota Center for Life Science Technology Commercialization — a 60,000-square-foot building designed to convert ideas and technology from university biomedical researchers into viable startups. A key component of the center is a $20 million venture capital fund that will support the companies.

There were a few new details Thursday, but perhaps the most important part of the announcement was where it took place: the annual meeting of the Association of University Research Parks (AURP), a top authority on how to convert university innovation into companies and jobs.

Construction of research parks “has been going on all over the country,” said Peter Bianco, director of life science business development at Minneapolis law firm Nilan Johnson Lewis PA. “It’s time for us to take our place.”

Bianco, who was recently elected to the AURP board of directors, is spearheading the Minnesota Science Park.

Incubators have come and gone in Minnesota. But Minnesota Science Park seems to have the blessing of AURP and other national technology transfer experts.

“It is a very good idea,” said Kevin Byrne, AURP treasurer and chief operating officer for The University Financing Foundation Inc. “It’s the right time, right opportunity for the university to expand its research enterprise.”

So here’s what we know so far:

  • The Minnesota Science Park is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that could own the 32 acres targeted for development, though the group says it prefers private investors for the project.
  • Roberta Cordano, president of Park Nicollet Institute and vice president of the Park Nicollet Health System, will serve as chair of the Minnesota Science Park board of directors.
  • The park is looking for a developer. The group initially will focus on a firm connection to the Biomedical Discovery District.
  • The university will not take a direct role in the park, but the two sides expect close collaboration, especially on commercialization opportunities.

As Bianco noted, this won’t be easy or quick. Several obstacles remain: can the park raise the necessary money, especially for the accelerator’s $20 million fund? Can the park reach deals with the land owners?

The park would need federal and state money to remove grain elevators, clean up the industrial property, which is likely to be contaminated, and convince Burlington Northern Santa Fe and Union Pacific railroads to move their tracks. Sources say negotiations have yielded little progress so far.

But the upside is huge. Jay Schrankler, who heads the university’s Office for Technology Commercialization, summed it up.

Minnesota has been spoiled by the success of its 20 Fortune 500 companies. But most of the innovation that drove their success has been by accident, he said.

What the state needs to do with projects like the Minnesota Science Park is to deliberately and systematically produce technological and scientific breakthroughs that result in startups and jobs.

In other words, there must be a method to this madness we call innovation.

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Comments (1)

  1. Submitted by Bill Gleason on 09/17/2010 - 09:33 am.

    Perhaps Minnesota is building too many carts (University Enterprise Labs, Elk River, Biomedical Discovery District) for the horses (real ideas suitable for commercial development) that we have?

    Having worked at 3M and the U, I will point out that there is a great deal of difference between innovation as practiced at 3M and basic research as practiced at the U.

    Some of the philosopher kings involved in encouraging new business development in the state seem to be incredibly naive about these matters…

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