In 2019, the University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH) opened a new, more than 45,000-square foot facility whose name says a great deal. It’s the Invention to Innovation Center or I2C, and a former tech transfer executive at Vanderbilt University is at the helm of the new venture.
Rigved Joshi joined the UAH team as Director of I2C before ground was even broken on the building in 2017, although he said “everything was greenlighted” by then. When we caught-up with him recently, the I2C already had reached close to 60 percent occupancy with 15 companies in its incubator.
“This has been the perfect ramp up since we opened doors in June,” Joshi says.
At the grand opening ceremony in June, Alabama Governor Kay Ivey underscored just how important the I2C is, not just Northern Alabama but to the entire state. “The Invention to Innovation Center is an absolute game changer in Alabama,” she told those in attendance.
For a community that many would say is “on fire” on the governmental front, I2C represents a significant investment by UAH to help address a major priority of the city’s business and civic leaders: diversify the economy.
“The presence of an innovation focused incubator on the UAH campus performs a dual role – serving as platform to actively pursue spin-off opportunities fueled by university lP and led by students, faculty, etc., and acting as catalyst for entrepreneurs and start-ups to leverage university centric resources as a result of participating in the incubation program,” Joshi says. “Thus, the UAH anchors tied to I2C lead to opportunities that enable public-private partnerships, deal flow, educational and research collaborations, mentorship, talent sourcing and funding access, all of which contribute towards the creation of a robust entrepreneurial ecosystem.”
In the Center’s Director, UAH found a person with experience on all fronts in the invention to innovation front with more than 15 years’ experience in technology development, start-up commercialization, venture capital/private equity, and business management and a proven track record of successful leadership in delivering strategy and solutions with positive impact to the bottom line.
Joshi joined UAH in March 2017 and immersed himself in learning more about the community, region and university.
“I knew bits and pieces of what the community was all about,” he says, citing well-known assets like the HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology, Cummings Research Park, Marshall Space Flight Center, and Redstone Arsenal.
“The more I learned, the more excited I became about the rich R&D history and the focus of the university,” Joshi says. “Huntsville is built by entrepreneurs who have scaled their businesses through persistence, timing and hard work. This region embodies and celebrates small business success – a grass roots movement that will propel the next phase of innovation in the years to come.”
So, where does the Director plan to place his emphasis? He says that the establishment of the I2C as a “regional” innovation initiative on campus is a win-win for the UAH community and the 15-county entrepreneurial ecosystem that it supports.
Joshi cites the strategic advantages for aspiring entrepreneurs and start-ups to leverage UAH resources though the I2C that open avenues to explore synergies and collaborations spanning several key areas. Those include opportunities to partner with faculty and students on spin offs, collaborative/sponsored research, grant funding, talent acquisition through internships and consulting projects, commercialization and IP support, and the use of university’s physical resources including special purpose facilities, labs, equipment and related capabilities which can accelerate innovation and technology development.
“Our goal at I2C is to support and accelerate new venture creation by leveraging UAH as the anchor and bridging the resource gaps through strategic collaborations that drive value creation and partnerships that result in a positive impact for our entrepreneurial community,” Joshi adds. That’s part of a larger strategy of connecting entrepreneurial ecosystems.
“The Huntsville Chamber is unlike any chamber I have ever experienced,” he says, citing the organization’s “smart leadership.” Joshi also noted that the “Mayors of surrounding cities are extremely collaborative.”
So, the ingredients are clearly in place to help advance the greater Huntsville region.
“Every day, there’s something new, something exciting,” Joshi says. “The availability of resources (both infrastructure and programmatic) are unique to this region thus presenting an opportunity to nurture, develop and expand a tech-based ecosystem by leveraging the collective strength of what we have to offer. ”