By Tom Ballard, Chief Alliance Officer, PYA
David Golden says the renaming of the East Tennessee State University (ETSU) Research Foundation to become the ETSU Research Corporation is much more than simply a rebranding. It is, in fact, a statement about the importance of innovation and the role that the institution can and should play in the region and beyond.
Like other organizations such as the Tennessee Technology Development Corporation that does businesses as Launch Tennessee, the ETSU Research Foundation remains the official name, but it is now doing business under the Research Corporation brand.
“The Research Foundation was viewed as a passive thing . . . passing through research dollars,” says the longtime Eastman Chemical Company executive who retired in 2019 as Senior Vice President, Chief Legal and Sustainability Officer, and Corporate Secretary. “Before the change in name, we were a conduit to receive grants, mostly in the healthcare space. Our role today is to help drive research via innovation and activation.”
For Golden who retired at 54 years of age, the ETSU role provides an opportunity to do something totally different. He was one of the original members of ETSU’s Board of Trustees, resigning that position to become Chief Executive Officer of the Research Corporation as noted in this February 2021 teknovation.biz article. It’s a role he clearly relishes as we learned during a recent interview. More important, Golden has broad experience and widespread connections that can help ETSU achieve its long-term aspirations.
He serves on the Board of Directors of Ballad Health, Tennessee State Collaborative on Reforming Education, Niswonger Foundation, STREAMWORKS, Howard H. Baker Jr. Center for Public Policy at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, Tennessee Registry of Election Finance, Music for All, and Tennessee Business Court Rules Commission. Golden is Chair of the Board of Directors of the Marine Advanced Technology Education Inspiration for Innovation (MATE II) based in Monterey, CA.
Before retiring from Eastman, he was responsible for the company’s legal; corporate health, safety, and environmental services; product safety and regulatory affairs; sustainability; government relations; communication; community affairs; public policy; privacy; global business conduct; and international trade compliance functions.
Today, the Research Corporation’s website lists six major areas of emphasis: research innovation; entrepreneurial ecosystem development; regional development; PK-12 STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) innovation; design, media, and marketing innovation; and workforce development.
In his roughly one-year old role at ETSU, Golden describes his approach with a simple, three-word statement: “We are building bridges.” He explains that ETSU did not have a vehicle to drive collaboration. “We are building bridges among the islands. We’re providing a platform to take ideas and do something with them.”
A good example of that approach was the early December announcement (see teknovation.biz article here) of a collaboration with Brand Storytelling to launch the first-ever professional certification program focused on industry professionals and recent college graduates looking to better understand the intersection of business, brand and film.
“That’s an example of an entrepreneurial idea that needed a platform to produce it,” Golden says.
Another recent example was the announcement that Kingsport’s Innovation Village was expanding with the creation of the Center for Digital Innovation. The initiative is designed to position the city as the advanced manufacturing innovation hub of Central Appalachia, an entrepreneurial sandbox for creators and inventors, and a community center for training a digital workforce. The Research Corporation joined with Create Appalachia, Kingsport’s Office of Small Business and Entrepreneurship, Northeast State Community College and the Regional Center for Advanced Manufacturing, and Sync Space Entrepreneur Center on that effort.
With his varied responsibilities during his Eastman tenure, it is not surprising that Golden brings a good deal of public policy thought to his ETSU role. “Our state rises and falls as a result of its weakest links,” he says in reference to economic development. “The tribal, silo culture will suboptimize for the state. We need to make the three stars one big star.”
And, with his international experience at Eastman, Golden says the Research Corporation is “designed to allow us to do business with anyone.” ETSU’s Innovation Lab falls under his purview, and Golden cites its Soft Landings program as an example of how “we can help those companies get on a larger playing field.”
Overall, his philosophy can be summarized this way: “We need to be a collaboration partner.”