The United States’ entrepreneurial spirit and substantial funding from venture capital firms are huge competitive advantages and key differentiators for the country. We lead the world in VC investments as a percentage of GDP and have been more efficient in converting early-stage investments into late-stage ventures than any other country in the world. As a result, the U.S. remains the center for “disruptive innovation.”[1]

Why is this important, you might ask? As the National Venture Capital Association states, “Venture capital backed companies generate more sales, pay more taxes, generate more exports and invest more in research and development (R&D) than other public companies, when adjusting for size.”

In general, regions and nations with developed innovation ecosystems are characterized by high levels of public spending on top-tier universities, business R&D spending, venture capital investments, information and communication technology investments and tertiary education expenditures.[1] All these factors and variables are correlated with actions taken by both government and businesses. Thus, the onus of creating a highly developed innovation ecosystem should be borne by both business and government.

Among all of these factors, the U.S. has a key differentiator and competitive advantage: the strength and quality of its research universities. All of the regional innovation clusters in the U.S. have grown around major research universities: Silicon Valley around Stanford and Berkeley; Boston around Harvard and MIT; North Carolina around UNC, NC State and Duke; Austin and Houston around the University of Texas, and so on. These universities have two things in common: a) they are all among the top research universities in the world; and b) none of them are in the midwest.

But the world is starting to take note of Purdue’s Innovation and Entrepreneurial Ecosystem.

A few years ago, then new President Mitch Daniels, observed that Purdue’s new discoveries and technologies, while numerous, were not having the kind of local and global market and social impact that one would expect from a top-tier university.  Not enough patents were being filed, not enough licenses to develop new market innovations were being granted and most importantly, perhaps, very few new startup companies were being created in the local area. President Daniels believed then, as he does now, that even in a small midwest town like West Lafayette, Indiana, things could be different. He put a team in place at the Purdue Research Foundation that over the next few years would dramatically alter the status quo. Purdue made deliberate choices to create resources and remove barriers to empower innovators and entrepreneurs to move their ideas forward and to impact markets and society.

And a lot has happened over the last five years.

Just a few days ago, the National Academy of Inventors announced that Purdue now ranks #12 among the Top 100 universities in the world in terms of U.S. patents granted. This is up from 36 a few years ago, and puts us ahead of Harvard, Penn, Illinois, Northwestern and many other top institutions.

Within just the past few weeks, the Milken Institute report, “Concept of Commercialization: The Best Universities for Technology Transfer” ranked Purdue No. 1 in the Midwest and No. 1 nationally among public institutions without a medical school at creating startups and moving technologies to the marketplace. In addition, Discovery Park’s Burton D. Morgan Center for Entrepreneurship was selected as one of 35 centers featured in the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business Entrepreneurial Spotlight Challenge. The Challenge highlights academic centers that develop cutting-edge business innovations through student learning. The Burton D. Morgan Center, in partnership with the Krannert School of Business and the Purdue Polytechnic Institute, provides essential programming related to education and the application of entrepreneurship principles.

This recent recognition comes on the heels of the Association of Public Land Grant Universities honoring Purdue University with its Innovation Award this past November.

At the heart of these accolades is an innovation ecosystem that knows how to take ideas to impact.

One of the key resources created was the Purdue Foundry at the Purdue Research Foundation.  Located in Discovery Park’s Burton Morgan Center for Entrepreneurship, the Foundry has aligned resources across campus to lower barriers and empower innovators and entrepreneurs so they can realize the true potential for their inventions. The resources range from programs designed to help entrepreneurs articulate their value proposition and validate their ideas with market research, coaching, social networks and seed funding.  A key process called “Firestarter” guides innovators and entrepreneurs through 10 weeks of ideation and market discovery resulting in a commercialization strategy.  Entrepreneurs in residence then lend their experience and expertise to the program’s innovators and entrepreneurs as they execute their strategy.

Since the inception of the Purdue Foundry in 2013, Purdue has enjoyed record numbers of startups based on Purdue technology and a huge influx of additional startups into the Purdue ecosystem. Ninety-six startups have been created and we expect to see that number eclipse the 100 mark in the next six months, positioning Purdue University as an elite creator of startup companies among universities throughout the world. Interestingly, most of these companies are in areas distinct from the traditional software and app development that characterizes so many of Silicon Valley’s startups. Instead, the Purdue ecosystem is populated with companies focused on new technologies for agriculture, energy, drugs, aerospace, manufacturing and other fields of endeavor of great relevance to companies in the midwest and to society at large.

How many of these companies will go on to raise large amounts of capital and create new markets remains, of course, uncertain, but Discovery Park is proud to be part of this robust innovation and entrepreneurial ecosystem to help ensure that the solutions to global challenges that our faculty and students develop every day have an ever-increasing impact on our rapidly evolving global society.

[1] Findings from the 2015 Deloitte report, Advanced Technologies Initiative: Manufacturing & Innovation, authored by Craig Giffi, Joann Michalik, Michelle Drew Rodriguez, Tomás Díaz de la Rubia, Bharath Gangula, Jeffery Carbeck and Mark Cotteleer.