(EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the fourth in a four-part series that started with an interview with David Millhorn, Executive Vice President of the University of Tennessee, about the past eight years and the future, including the important work of the Research Foundation.)
It’s been about a year since we first sat down with Dick Gourley, then the newly named Interim President of the University of Tennessee Research Foundation (UTRF), to talk about his plans after he had had just relocated to Knoxville from Memphis.
“We’ve made a lot of progress,” the former Dean of the UT College of Pharmacy told us a few weeks ago, citing accomplishments such as a full staff in Knoxville versus a “skeleton staff” when he and Dave Washburn, Vice President in UTRF’s Knoxville office, assumed their respective responsibilities in late 2011.
“A year and a half to two years ago, we had a tenuous relationship with the campuses,” Gourley acknowledged, using the word “distrust” to further describe UTRF’s reputation. Today, he recites a list of accomplishments beyond the staffing additions. They range from a collaboration where the Institute of Agriculture and UTRF are jointly supporting a Licensing Associate to plans to more effectively support the Chattanooga and Martin campuses.
In many respects, it was basic blocking and tackling – getting the house in order and laying a foundation to launch new initiatives. Gourley points to a strategic plan, which did not exist; two new Licensing Associates; a Patent Coordinator; and a Marketing Coordinator. Still to come is a transactions-focused attorney in the next fiscal year.
Gourley understood the challenges that he faced, having chaired UTRF’s Health Science Center Executive Committee since its creation before accepting his new position. But, he also understood what it took to be successful.
“We had gotten Memphis turned around,” Gourley said. “It was very effective and functional.”
He initially agreed to the interim position through June 30, 2012 but agreed to an extension to this upcoming June 30. By then, he says “UTRF will be set in terms of structure and process.”
Gourley and the UTRF team have focused on areas where they could save money, such as leasing some excess buildings at the UT Space Institute, and areas where they could make modest but strategic investments, such as modifying the annual “B. Otto and Kathleen Wheeley Award for Excellence in Technology Transfer” to give two, $5,000 stipends.
UTRF also is the umbrella for some of the University’s major technology initiatives including Cherokee Farm Development Corporation, West Tennessee Solar Farm, and two biofuels activities – TennEra and its for-profit spin-off, Genera Energy Inc. TennEra just announced the hiring of Adam McCall as Chief Executive Officer.
Gourley’s priorities for the balance of FY13 include engaging more with UT’s Chattanooga and Martin campuses. “We need to be more responsive to them and their faculty in tangible ways,” he said. One priority involves finding a way to finance maturation grants for those campuses.
He’s also planning a “research forum to build bridges across researchers.” The concept is straightforward. Gourley wants to identify four areas where UT has unique expertise, allocate resources in those areas, and pursue grants.
“It’s all about getting out and stimulating thoughts and ideas,” he explained. “We are a service unit for, not of the university.”
As he looks to the future, Gourley draws on his previous tenure as a faculty member and Dean. “Universities are changing dramatically, and they’re going to if they are going to be successful in the 21st Century,” he says
It is clear that Gourley has a defined strategy for the ways in which UTRF can contribute to the success of UT.