(EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the second article in a multi-part series focused on SCRA, officially known as the South Carolina Research Authority. The state-chartered organization was established in 1983 to promote job creation in South Carolina’s innovation economy. SCRA’s impact on the state’s economy has averaged $688 million annually.)
By Tom Ballard, Chief Alliance Officer, PYA
The South Carolina Research Authority (SCRA) is focused on three key sectors – advanced manufacturing and materials, information technology, and life sciences – and three key client constituencies – academic institutions, entrepreneurs, and industry executives.
“We’re looking at the intersection of two or more of these constituencies,” says Bob Quinn, the organization’s Executive Director. “Those are where the largest potential exists for innovation and economic growth.”
The three sectors also align with the Palmetto State’s workforce, institutional research, and existing company strengths.
“It’s all about technology,” Quinn adds.
One might say there are four pillars that anchor SCRA’s growth strategy for South Carolina. They are academia as represented by the state’s three research universities and other academic institutions, entrepreneurs, industries, and the organization’s innovation centers that provide wet labs, collaboration spaces, and other research space.
SCRA partnered with the three research universities to open three innovation centers and added a fourth facility to serve as a catalyst for economic development. It also owns and manages a research park. The five facilities encompass more than 1.3 million square feet. In late 2019, SCRA will be opening a sixth center focused on life sciences.
- In the Upstate in Anderson, the Duke Energy Innovation Center is a collaboration with Clemson University and Duke Energy.
- The USC/Columbia Innovation Center houses the University of South Carolina’s McNAIR Aerospace Center and EngenuitySC and has an emphasis on clean, next- generation manufacturing operations, including automotive.
- The Applied Technologies Center in Summerville is SCRA’s headquarters while also housing its recently divested Advanced Technology International affiliate. It served as the interim headquarters for Volvo Car USA’s South Carolina operations prior to the completion of the company’s nearby manufacturing plant.
- Medical and bioscience research activities are housed in the Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC) Innovation Center in Charleston. There’s also a new multi-story building named 22 WestEdge that is nearing completion adjacent to MUSC, and SCRA has committed to leasing the 16,000 square foot top floor as a way to attract more established life science companies to the city.
- The Carolina Research Park in Columbia is home to many advanced-technology companies including Dominion Energy, IKON, MISYS Healthcare Systems, and others.
The centers clearly underscore the increased emphasis that SCRA places on the state’s academic research universities, both as sources of intellectual capital and as suppliers of the workforce needed to drive a tech-based economy.
“Supporting academia is a core part of our mission,” Quinn explains, noting that SCRA and the research universities have executed a strategic collaboration agreement that provides a framework for the organizations to collaborate. Those efforts, implemented through a group called the SCRA-Academic Collaboration Team (SACT), are focused on increasing research funding; creating and advancing early-stage technology companies; increasing total capital investment in the state; and encouraging public-private partnerships to grow industry.
The theme is consistent; it’s all about facilitating collaborations where “the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.” But how specifically is SCRA incentivizing researchers, entrepreneurs, and industry executives to collaborate in ways that achieve the results it seeks? The answer is several complementary programs.
Last year, SCRA committed $600,000 to a program that funded feasibility work by six public-private sector teams in three areas: medical devices, technology-enabled solutions for population health, and the next generation of manufacturing (dubbed Industry neXt). As noted in this recent article on teknovation.biz, one of those grants was successful in securing a U.S. Economic Development Administration grant to establish the South Carolina Medical Device Alliance. This year, SCRA is doubling the resources dedicated to supporting these activities.
SCRA also has a matching grants program for early stage companies that win Phase I Small Business Innovation Research or Small Business Technology Transfer grants. The program is capped at $50,000 per award. There are also maturation grants of up to $15,000 that augment an academic institution’s own program and “Academic Start-up Assistance Grants” for up to $25,000.
NEXT: How does SCRA support entrepreneurs and existing companies?