Guang Gao, Endowed Distinguished Professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at the University of Delaware.

University research drives innovation

National report by Science Coalition highlights UD spin-off company

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1:40 p.m., Oct. 30, 2013--A University of Delaware spin-off company is highlighted in a new national report by The Science Coalition. 

The report, “Sparking Economic Growth 2.0: Companies Created from Federally Funded Research, Fueling American Innovation and Economic Growth,” identifies 100 companies that trace their roots to federally funded university research. These companies — while only a tiny fraction of the new companies formed each year — are contributing to the U.S. economy in a significant way. 

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E.T. International Inc. (ETI), located in Newark, Del., grew out of federally funded research by Guang Gao, Endowed Distinguished Professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at UD. ETI provides advanced computing systems and software based on new multi-core chip technology to analyze “big data” — large, complex data sets that are critical to a wide array of global businesses.

“From Dick Heck’s Nobel Prize-winning chemistry research that today finds use in pharmaceuticals to electronics, to the touch screen technology of John Elias and Wayne Westerman that laid the foundation for smart phones and tablets, UD’s federally funded research has been impacting the world,” said Charlie Riordan, vice provost for research. 

“It’s gratifying to see Professor Guang Gao take his computing solutions seeded by the departments of Defense and Energy to market by founding ET International, a company here in Delaware that employs more than 20 people and provides software solutions to some of the world’s biggest companies,” Riordan added.

The basic scientific research that gives rise to companies like ETI, and spurs the economy in many other ways, is jeopardized by the current funding environment. Federal funding for research and development has been on a downward trend for the past decade, with funding levels in 2013 at historic lows. 

Sequestration, which began in March 2013, is set to run through 2021 and will wring an additional $95 billion from federal research budgets over this period. 

This national disinvestment in science will have real consequences. As the “Sparking Economic Growth 2.0” companies illustrate, research and the transformative discoveries that flow from it often require sustained funding over many years to yield results.

ETI is an example of this return on investment. 

“The federal funding I received in the late 1990s and early 2000s was instrumental in my research group’s fundamental and long-term research on a dataflow model of computation — the very research on which ETI was founded,” Gao said. “Dataflow modeling is critically important to big data technology, and today provides ETI technology a competitive edge.” 

As the report points out, university research and the companies born from such research are a driving force behind much of the innovation in the United States. They are bringing forward innovations with the potential to transform industries and solve some of the world’s greatest problems. 

Since industry conducts relatively little basic research today (about 20 percent), the “seed corn” produced at research universities is essential to U.S. industry and its ability to compete. 

Research universities play an important role in the creation and future success of spin-off companies, providing a nurturing environment and critical assistance to researcher-entrepreneurs aiming to bring research discoveries to the marketplace.

UD’s Office of Economic Innovation and Partnerships (OEIP) is responsible for generating benefit from the University’s research and technology assets and for creating value for UD and the state by engaging in economic development, according to David Weir, the office’s director. 

“To discharge these responsibilities, OEIP functions as a portal linking the University with the academic, public and private sectors across the state. It also facilitates the formation and growth of small, technology-based businesses like ET International and contributes to the development of a culture of innovation and entrepreneurship,” Weir said.

The Science Coalition is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization of more than 50 of the nation’s leading public and private research universities, including the University of Delaware. It is dedicated to sustaining the federal government’s investment in basic scientific research as a means to stimulate the economy, spur innovation and drive America’s global competitiveness. 

The new Science Coalition report is available online. An accompanying database provides access to company profiles and allows users to sort companies by federal funding agency, university affiliation, type of innovation and other criteria. 

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