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Courtnee Jensen. Submitted photo

From Napkins to Laboratories: North Dakota invests in shared progress with intellectual property commercialization

So many great ideas start as a sketch on a napkin, during a conversation with friends over a beverage after work, in response to a moment of frustration with the way things are currently done. How many times have each of us said “there has to be a better way?!” 

The most entrepreneurial amongst us venture forth, armed with our napkins, networks and business development programs, to make our idea a reality. But, taking that idea from the napkin to the market is fraught with roadblocks and complications. “How can I physically create this world changing device? How can I test the effectiveness? How can I get the funding to do research and move this to the next stage?” Great ideas are often lost in the complex process of development. 

The funds needed to hire experienced researchers and finding lab space can make moving to the next iteration of your product or service seem impossible.

Many assume that those in higher education have a leg up when it comes to innovation. They have state-of-the-art laboratories, access to countless intellectuals, and the enviable federal government research grants. So, why is every researcher not an inventor holding thousands of patents and millions of dollars? There are many reasons: the availability of funding through grants is limited, researchers often don’t have business experience, or maybe they don’t have the connections needed to bring the idea to the market. Even if the barriers aren’t the same, the same sense of frustration with commercialization is felt by the brilliant researchers in our state’s higher education institutions. 

The state of North Dakota has recognized that although the challenges are different, researchers and businesses have the same goal: to solve problems and create value for our state. Great minds in both business and in research need the expertise of the other to create sustainable, marketable solutions. And, in response, multiple state institutions are combining their efforts to bridge the gaps. 

The North Dakota Department of Commerce, the Bank of North Dakota, North Dakota State University and the University of North Dakota have created the Intellectual Property (IP) Commercialization Initiative to build a strong, collaborative business research ecosystem. In facilitating public/private partnerships the state can provide businesses with the research needed to develop and test products, provide researchers access to private funding to move their research goals forward, and to give students critical, real world lab experience. 

The three-year initiative will promote economic diversification through the commercialization of IP, while assisting the university system by promoting access to private funding. State agencies will identify opportunities with businesses for sponsored research partnerships. Selected entrepreneurs will secure capital and subject matter expertise from a joint effort among all participating agencies. The North Dakota Department of Commerce will promote private funding by working closely with existing businesses, entrepreneurs and venture capital firms to promote economic growth by utilizing current North Dakota University System’s research projects. And, they have invested in a multi-agency facilitator to help make the process easier for both business and for research.

This is a truly thoughtful and innovative way to look at creating value for both business and research, but it still may not provide the critical piece of the puzzle for many entrepreneurs, the funding. The state took that into consideration as well with the creation of the Legacy Investment for Technology (LIFT) program. Under the LIFT program, businesses are able to receive funds specifically designed to allow businesses to invest in IP research.

Many of the crops we grow are from seeds engineered right here in North Dakota. Countless medical devices and new medications are products of our very own biomedical researchers. Our growing autonomous vehicles sector is getting international attention with the Beyond Visual Line of Sight corridor. Coating and polymers developed in North Dakota are already being incorporated into products on a global scale. The point is, the state of North Dakota wants to see you (and your napkin) succeed. 

Cortnee Jensen was recently hired by Commerce as the IP Commercialization Developer. She is responsible for the facilitation of the IP program.