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New state fund links university research, economic development

By Fariss Samarrai

The Virginia General Assembly approved during the 2000 session the creation of the Commonwealth Technology Research Fund, a $13 million start-up fund to encourage federal and private investment in basic and applied research at Virginia public universities.

The Commonwealth will begin funding awards as early as July 1, and applicants can now begin submitting proposals. Grant-winning universities must match the awards, making the total value of the fund $26 million. Grants may range from $500,000 to $1.5 million.

"With the creation of this fund, the legislature has made a precedent-setting decision to directly support state university research," says Anita K. Jones, University Professor of Engineering and Computer Science and chair of the Virginia 2020 Science and Technology Planning Commission. Jones also co-chairs the governor's Virginia Research and Technology Advisory Commission.

She recently spoke about the fund on behalf of VRTAC during a meeting convened at U.Va. by the state Department of Planning and Budget.

"With the help of VRTAC, the fund has been crafted to be strategic in nature," Jones says. "It was created to help build long-term research infrastructure in Virginia's universities, to support basic and applied research, and to connect research with economic development. This is a real opportunity for our researchers, for our universities, and ultimately, for the economic strength of our state."

VRTAC identified several broad areas it considers of critical importance to economic growth in the Commonwealth: information technology and communications, biotechnology, bioinformatics, advanced materials and nanotechnology, and technology contributing to advanced manufacturing and biomanufacturing.

The Commonwealth Technology Research Fund has three components, with each tied to the above areas: a matching funds program to leverage federal and private research dollars; a strategic academic enhancement program, to upgrade research capacity in academic departments in innovative technology fields with strong potential for contributing to economic development in Virginia; and an industry inducement program, to upgrade research capacity in key university departments in order to attract specific companies to locate or expand in Virginia. Awards from the fund will be based on the scientific merit and economic development potential of research programs in the fields of aerospace, biotechnology, energy, environmental and information technologies, high performance manufacturing, telecommunications and transportation.

Awards may also be made in other research fields if a strong case is made for the long-term economic development potential of the award.

A merit-based selection process will include input from VRTAC. In planning and administering the fund, the Department of Planning and Budget is working closely with Virginia's Center for Innovative Technology, the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia, the Virginia Economic Development Partnership, as well as VRTAC.

For information, visit http://www.dpb.state.va.us/ctrf/ctrf.htm.


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