Senate budget boosts funding for commercializing university research
On Monday, North Carolina Senate Republicans unveiled a budget proposal that allocates $1.425 billion to NCInnovation, a non-profit organization established by NC business and education leaders aimed at fostering innovation and economic growth in the state. The more than $1 billion in state funds are a major uptick from the $50 million previously proposed by House lawmakers.
The spending detailed in the Senate’s latest version of House Bill 259 for the upcoming fiscal year aims to bridge the gap between North Carolina’s research and development capacity and the state’s ability to increase commercialization of those outputs in the market.
“Anchored in regions outside the traditional research engines, NCInnovation can create a new path for rural growth,” said UNC System President Peter Hans, a member of NCInnovation’s board.
According to NCInnovation, North Carolina ranks second behind Massachusetts in research and development. However, NC falls well behind other states in commercializing publicly-funded research at 20th place.
NCInnovation attributes the disparity to four main issues: limited resources outside major urban areas, poor communication between universities, insufficient funding, and a lack of organized networks promoting market development of research achievements.
NCInnovation has outlined a plan that includes providing grant funding for applied research and establishing regional research commercialization networks with a particular focus on rural areas. Collaborating with North Carolina universities outside of the Research Triangle: Western Carolina University, University of North Carolina at Charlotte, North Carolina A&T, and East Carolina University, NCInnovation aims to expand research opportunities.
“We have a bold model to accelerate applied research and commercial outputs statewide, helping create jobs and secure our state’s future,” said NC Senate Majority Leader and Finance Chairman Paul Newton, R-Cabarrus, in a press release.
Despite enthusiastic support from Senate leaders, the boost in spending may be scrutinized by House lawmakers who previously proposed to grant the non-profit $50 million. House legislators also proposed for NCInnovation to receive funding during the 2024-2025 fiscal year dependent on the non-profit’s presentation of a detailed spending action plan by Jan. 1, 2024.
NCInnovation has also garnered significant financial backing from major statewide and national corporations, who have donated over $23 million to the non-profit. Among notable supporters are Duke Energy, Truist, and JPMorgan Chase.
“Innovation and scale begin locally, which is why we thought it especially important to support North Carolina’s entrepreneurial development.” said Jamie Dimon, Chairman and CEO of JPMorgan Chase.
Business executives on NCInnovation’s board of directors include former Truist CEO Kelly King, former Waste Industries CEO Ven Poole, Piedmont Triad Partnership CEO Stan Kelly, and Pathalys Pharma CEO Neal Fowler. Chancellors of NCInnovation’s four partner universities also hold seats on the nonprofit’s board.
NC General Assembly committees will begin debates on the Senate’s additions to House Bill 259 on Wednesday with votes expected later this week.