U’s business ties expected to expand

A University office developed a plan to strengthen partnerships with outside organizations.

by Brian Edwards

Abdennour Abbas, a bionanotechnology assistant professor, is studying alternative types of food packaging that could help save billions of dollars that are lost to spoiled food each year.

And his research has grabbed the attention of a major food company, which offered to pay an adaptation of the study for its use.

In an effort to improve and expand relationships between businesses and researchers, like Abbas, the Office of University Economic Development is implementing a new plan that aims to strengthen the school’s ties with its business and community partners.

Through one-on-one meetings with businesses and by sending more researchers to conferences, the office is more actively pursuing and strengthening business partnerships.

Since the office’s creation last year, it has helped develop business relationships. Now, it is working to create more, while reinforcing the existing ones, said Maura Donovan, UED’s executive director.

Last year, $741 million in externally-sponsored research awards went to University faculty and staff members. 86 of those awards were $1 million or more.

The office is working extensively with food and agriculture, medical device and clean energy businesses, Donovan said.

The state Legislature awarded the University $36 million in 2013 as part of the MnDRIVE initiative, which helps grow business and University research relations. The initiative helped fund Abbas’ work on food safety.

In 2014, state funding for University research increased 21.8 percent, according to a report from the Office of the Vice President for Research.

Abbas said investments like MnDRIVE that spur researcher-business partnerships are beneficial in that they help solve researcher’s questions and put their work to use.

For his study, he developed a sticker that goes inside milk cartons. The sticker changes colors as milk spoils.

The Minnesota company involved in Abbas’ research asked him to adapt the technology to better fit with the organizations’ needs.

“I believe successful research begins with need,” he said.