Healthy Economy

Business Partnerships Lead Research Growth

In all, Oregon State research totaled almost $281 million last year, just shy of OSU’s top research performance achieved in 2010. Meanwhile, private sector financing reached nearly $35 million, a 42 percent increase in the past two years.

Oregon State University recorded its second-best year ever in research funding and achieved a new milestone in research support from the private sector in the fiscal year that ended June 30.

In all, Oregon State research totaled almost $281 million last year, just shy of OSU’s top research performance achieved in 2010. Meanwhile, private sector financing reached nearly $35 million, a 42 percent increase in the past two years.

“Research produces revenues for practically every sector of Oregon’s economy,” said Rick Spinrad, vice president for research at Oregon State. “It’s our best bet for moving the state forward.”

Industry funding included payments for testing services, environmental analysis, prototype development and licensing fees for the use of OSU-developed intellectual property. Businesses partnering with the university ranged from global corporations (HP, Intel and British Petroleum) to Oregon companies (NuScale Power, Voxtel, Precision Castparts and Benchmade Knives).

Total technology licensing revenues increased about 3.5 percent over FY11 to $4.3 million. OSU signed 108 new licenses, a 277 percent increase, with companies in the fields of biotechnology, forest products, agriculture, healthy aging and manufacturing.

Industry funding accounted for about 12 percent of Oregon State research revenues in FY2012. (Source: OSU Research Office)
Industry funding accounted for about 12 percent of Oregon State research revenues in FY2012. (Source: OSU Research Office)

“Technology licenses enable existing and emerging businesses to turn OSU research into marketable products,” Spinrad added. “The benefits show up in faster, more efficient computer technologies; improved health care; renewable sources of energy; more competitive manufacturing; and wheat, hazelnuts and other crops that generate higher yields and resist disease.

“And it’s about more than just the economy,” Spinrad added. “Research also saves lives. It guides policies that protect public health and reduce the impact of natural hazards in our communities.”

Funding from federal agencies has declined about 5 percent since FY10. A drop was expected because in FY10 and FY11, OSU received a total of about $35 million in one-time federal funding through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

Nevertheless, over a five-year period, funding from federal agencies has grown appreciably. For example, two agencies — the National Science Foundation and the Department of Energy Office of Science — saw an increase in appropriations of about 27 percent. However, during that time, OSU’s grants from those two agencies grew at almost twice that rate, about 49 percent. Grants from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, OSU’s largest single source of research funding, grew 58 percent in that period.

“This research success is really a testament to our faculty who continue to focus on state and national priorities in areas such as food production, technology, health care, energy and the environment,” said Spinrad. “Their success makes great opportunities available to our students and is the basis for partnerships with government agencies and Oregon businesses.”

Oregon State faculty continued to increase their success rate in competitive grant proposals to foundations and federal agencies. More than 50 percent of all proposals received funding in FY12. That continues a trend that began in FY08, when the OSU success rate was 38 percent.

“Competition for research funding is increasing,” said Spinrad. “But we continue to hire talented research faculty with support from the Campaign for OSU. We’re creating new partnerships with businesses, agencies, foundations and universities and attracting students who want to make a difference. Patents, licensing agreements, startup companies – traditionally seen as indicators leading to future growth – are going in the right direction.”

Among companies signing licenses with Oregon State last year were three new startups: Applied Exergy (energy storage), Microflow CVO (chemical mixing) and CLJV (forest products). Since 2006, OSU has spun off 11 companies that have attracted more than $180 million in capital investment.

The university had its best month ever last September with more than $42 million in funding, led by its single largest grant for the year from the NSF. With an initial investment of $12 million, Oregon State partnered with the University of Oregon to establish the Center for Sustainable Materials Chemistry, which has labs and research teams on both campuses. Following discoveries that led to dramatic improvements in semiconductor performance and reductions in the use of toxic chemicals for production, that initiative has already spun off two startup businesses and generated more than a dozen patents.

Altogether, Oregon State’s largest grants in FY12 came from six federal agencies and one state agency for work in agriculture, chemistry, public health, cancer prevention, nutrition, environmental protection, alternative energy and marine resources. They include:

  • $12 million for the sustainable materials chemistry center (National Science Foundation)
  • $7 million for nutrition research and assistance (Oregon Department of Human Services)
  • $3.9 million for research to address the growing threat of childhood obesity (U.S. Department of Agriculture)
  • $3.7 million for research in support of coastal communities (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration)
  • $3.4 million for a multi-agency ocean research program housed at OSU’s Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration)
  • $2.9 million for the study of diet in cancer prevention (National Institutes of Health)
  • $2.8 million for new ways to monitor air and water pollution by polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) and to protect human health (U.S. Public Health Service)
  • $1.9 million to support ocean research through ship operations (National Science Foundation)
  • $1.9 million to study methods for producing biofuels from woody debris (U.S. Department of Agriculture)
  • $1.9 million for development of aquaculture methods in developing countries (U.S. Agency for International Development)

Private foundations provided a significant portion of Oregon State’s research funding. For example, grants from the Murdock Charitable Trust supported work in sustainable materials, ocean chemistry and biomedical research. A $450,000 Murdock grant enabled the College of Engineering to purchase a multi-chamber facility for testing the durability of new concrete mixtures, and additional funds support scientists working on seafloor processes and neurodegenerative diseases.

Other nonprofits such as the Agricultural Research Foundation, the David and Lucile Packard Foundation and the Ford Family Foundation supported work on natural resources, coastal ecosystems and rural communities respectively. Such grants have provided critical seed funding for ideas that have led to major projects in areas such as ocean wave energy.


By Nick Houtman

Nick Houtman is director of research communications at OSU and edits Terra, a world of research and creativity at Oregon State University. He has experience in weekly and daily print journalism and university science writing. A native Californian, he lived in Wisconsin and Maine before arriving in Corvallis in 2005.