The University of Florida is the most productive large university in the country at leveraging its research funding into new companies, new jobs and new ideas, according to a report released last week by the George W. Bush Institute and the Opus Faveo Innovation Development consulting firm.
A team of economists and business development experts ranked 195 universities for innovation impact, purely on volume, using data from the Association of University Technology Managers and other sources. Overall, UF ranked sixth behind only the California and Texas university systems, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the universities of Washington and Michigan.
But when the researchers then divided that impact number by the institutions’ total research expenditures as a way to measure relative productivity, UF jumped to the top among the largest universities.
“For our size, we move more technologies to the point of impact than anyone else, period,” said Jim O’Connell, assistant vice president for commercialization at UF and director of UF Innovate. “In the simplest sense, that is the ultimate job of all tech transfer organizations, and UF does it really, really well.”
UF generated an average of 123 issued patents and 15 startups per year between 2013 and 2017, according to the report, placing it among the top-performing U.S. universities on those metrics. It was a strong performer in license income, earning an average of $36 million per year, equal to 6.4% of research dollars.
Additionally, UF ranked 4th overall in teaching impact. It produced one-third as many STEM Ph.D. graduates each year as the entire University of California system, despite having a research budget only about one-tenth as large.
The report, titled “The Innovation Impact of U.S. Universities,” indicated that “Now more than ever, institutions that build competitive research operations around life science, biotechnology and other vital STEM fields are an essential driver of America’s economic growth and pandemic recovery.”
The university has created an entire innovation ecosystem – which includes tech transfer, business incubators, a venture fund, corporate engagement and more – to support the translational research generated by UF faculty.
“The report highlights – and rightly so – that UF operates one of the most respected technology transfer offices in the country with the best tech transfer team in the world,” said David Norton, UF’s vice president for research. “But none of this happens without a remarkable research enterprise that is aggressively addressing the significant opportunities and challenges that face our nation and planet.”
The fact that this ranking also factors in the impact of UF research on other researchers, as well as on its production of STEM graduates, “speaks volumes to our holistic institutional goal of impacting to world for positive good,” said Norton.
The university has spun off more than 60 companies in biotech alone, and more than 20% of them have been acquired by major pharmaceutical, food, agricultural biotech and energy enterprises.
The report concluded that university leaders should prioritize research, attract and retain star faculty researchers, run outcomes-focused tech transfer operations, instill a culture of innovation and entrepreneurship, and engage with the surrounding business and innovation community.
“One of the key takeaways in the report is that universities should not fear prioritizing technology innovation, commercialization and entrepreneurship,” O’Connell said. “Instead, the impact of innovation is synergistic with the research and teaching mission of universities and improves performance overall.”
The George W. Bush Institute is an action-oriented, nonpartisan policy organization seeking to develop leaders, advance policy and take action to solve pressing challenges. Opus Faveo Innovation Development is an innovation strategy and venture development firm.