Innovation infused, communities engaged

November 11, 2018
By Sarah Daniels

UNC-Chapel Hill named an Innovation and Economic Prosperity University by APLU

With tens of thousands of students, faculty and staff immersed in what seems like limitless teaching, research and social engagement activities each day, it’s hard to fully grasp what takes place on a university campus. Even more difficult is understanding the social and economic effect of innovations sparked at a university once they extend beyond campus. Ideas move into communities. Discoveries reach the real world. And the lessons from class projects and internships translate into job-ready skills. We know that these activities all make a positive difference, but how do we demonstrate the impact?

A national designation received by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill shows the strong campus-to-community connection that’s made possible through faculty and student innovations that serve the public. On Nov. 11, the Association of Public Land Grant Universities (APLU) named UNC-Chapel Hill an Innovation and Economic Prosperity (IEP) University. APLU created the IEP designation to help universities codify, elevate and advance their campus enterprise supporting economic development. With this designation, UNC-Chapel Hill joins more than 60 other top institutions that have made an ongoing commitment to economic and community engagement.

“It is a great honor for APLU to recognize the economic and social impact that UNC-Chapel Hill makes in communities throughout North Carolina and around the world,” said Judith Cone, vice chancellor for innovation, entrepreneurship and economic development. “Through this designation, we join other top universities in a community of practice that invests in turning ideas into practical benefit for the citizens we serve.”

The IEP designation concludes a rigorous two-year process of institutional self-study and collaboration with campus stakeholders to identify the strengths of the university’s economic engagement initiatives and opportunities for growth.

“Public research universities can maximize their contributions to economic growth, opportunity, and resiliency through their contributions to economic and community development,” said Sheila Martin, APLU’s Vice President for Economic Development and Community Engagement. “We are very pleased to be welcoming UNC-Chapel Hill into APLU’s community of IEP Designees. UNC’s status as a designee signals its sustainable and demonstrable commitment to economic engagement.”

APLU’s IEP designation helps universities assess their work in three areas:

● Talent and workforce development

● Innovation, entrepreneurship and technology-based economic development

● Place development through public and community engagement

Measuring Impact to Make a Difference

Carolina’s IEP application highlighted its robust method for measuring and showing the results of its economic engagement through data captured in the Innovate Carolina Startups Database and Impact Dashboard. The database is a proprietary system developed by the University to collect, manage and assess the economic and social impact of 575 commercial and social startups affiliated UNC and tracked since 1958.

The database also gathers and tracks detailed results from more than 25 innovation-focused programs on campus, including incubators, accelerators, entrepreneurship curricula and investor initiatives. An online dashboard surfaces insights from the database through a combination of data and stories that demonstrate the impact of Carolina startups and programs. For example, analysis of mid-year 2018 data analysis shows:

● A 21 percent increase in the total number of ventures (575 compared to 475) since June 2017, with 79 percent of the total ventures launched (454 of 575) still active.

● 83 percent of active ventures (376 of 454) are headquartered in 24 North Carolina counties, a 12 percent increase in the number of active UNC ventures based in the state compared to 336 of such startups at this time in 2017.

● 94 percent of the annual revenue ($10.5 billion of the $11.2 billion) earned by the ventures comes from those headquartered in North Carolina.

● 71,986 people are employed by these UNC ventures, with 8,902 of these employees located in North Carolina.

The University’s IEP award also shows how Carolina embeds economic engagement a core function across the institution. For example, it cites the Blueprint for Next, which is the strategic framework designed to guide the University for the next decade. The framework consists of two pillars: 1. Of the Public, For the Public; 2. Innovation Made Fundamental. These two pillars underscore how Carolina to develops its talent and reaffirm its commitment to the citizens of North Carolina. Further, it points to UNC-Chapel Hill’s Innovation Roadmap, which complements the Blueprint for Next framework by defining a strategy for increasing the number and speed of innovations that move from UNC-Chapel Hill into the world.

Recognition Based on Real-World Impact

For Carolina, the IEP designation goes beyond recognition. It’s a tangible opportunity to build on its efforts to infuse innovation into communities where it can make a social and economic impact. Leaders at UNC-Chapel Hill plan to use APLU’s IEP framework to help maximize the University’s capacity for economic engagement. Specific focus will be paid to coordinated programs, educational opportunities, shared resources and key partnerships.

“The IEP designation is an important university-wide recognition for Carolina, a celebration of how we make a real-world economic impact and an opportunity to collaborate with other innovation-driven universities,” said Michelle Bolas, director of Innovate Carolina, the campus-wide initiative for innovation and entrepreneurship at UNC-Chapel Hill.  “As part of this national consortium, we’re teaming with other university leaders on strategies that will help us prepare the future workforce, build community-connected partnerships and use research and entrepreneurship to improve how people work and live.” 

By working closely with other leading institutions that invest in their own innovation capacity, UNC-Chapel Hill will be able to monitor what’s working nationally and accelerate its own growth in innovation and entrepreneurship. That means sharing its own best practices, while learning from peer universities that have top-tier records for moving ideas and inventions to market, creating support systems for faculty and student innovators, and building strong entrepreneurship education programs.

In Good Company. For the Good of the Community.

The University’s involvement places it in outstanding company among peers. Of the 60 schools to receive the IEP designation, half are public, non-land-grant universities. Carolina is one of only eight Association of American Universities (AAU) institutions to receive the designation.

It’s particularly significant when non-land-grant universities like UNC-Chapel Hill achieve the IEP designation, notes Bolas. Their involvement demonstrates that these institutions, which typically don’t have the infrastructure of local extension offices like their land-grant peers, are also heavily engaged in developing solutions to economic and social problems and connecting directly with their communities.

The IEP designation follows a recent announcement that that U.S. News and World Report ranked UNC-Chapel Hill fourth in its national listing of undergraduate entrepreneurship education programs. It’s the highest such ranking for entrepreneurship at UNC-Chapel Hill and further evidence that the University is heavily focused on curricular and co-curricular initiatives that teach its students an entrepreneurial mindset and skillset. Such skills prepare students to contribute immediately and significantly to modern economy.  

“IEP is the only national designation that awards and convenes universities that innovate for the public good,” adds Cone. “UNC-Chapel Hill is honored to be a part of that group. We’re excited to work with other top institutions to do everything we can to bring ideas and talent from the University into our communities, where they can spark economic growth and help citizens live healthier, safer and more prosperous lives.”