ATLANTA — Georgia’s academic community is trying to spark the kind of commercial spinoffs that have propelled Boston, Austin, San Francisco and North Carolina with a half-day conference Monday to showcase examples of discoveries that have turned into businesses here.
The University System of Georgia issued invitations in the name of Chancellor Hank Huckaby to draw hundreds of legislators, business executives and college presidents to hear how some companies did it and kick around ideas on how others could, too.
Huckaby told them that economic development is one of his top priorities for the state’s 35 public colleges and universities. He wants each to do a better job of tapping into their faculty’s many innovations.
“From the smallest to the largest schools, from the schools with the simplest mission to the ones with the toughest mission, we are really doing great things in the University System of Georgia. The thing we weren’t doing was telling our story very well,” he said, “certainly not telling it in different venues and different ways.”
He announced that the system is working with members of the private sector to draft a communication plan to be kicked off next year.
Georgia Economic Development Commissioner Chris Cummiskey said the state suffers when trying to interest outside companies because of its image like Silicon Valley or Research Triangle.
“We don’t have a great brand,” he said. “We don’t.”
Georgia has a lower cost of living and cost of doing business than other states with a reputation as hubs for invention, and it has academics who are just as innovative as those other states, he said.
The companies on display included Camellix LLC that sells chewing gum and losenges to prevent dry mouth that were developed by Dr. Stephen Hsu, a professor at Georgia Health Sciences University. Another was IS3D, an Athens company that sells interactive science textbooks based on research at the University of Georgia. A 86-year-old Newnan company that makes parts for industrial freezers that were refined with technology produced at Georgia Tech.
Huckaby acknowledged that part of the challenge is convincing university professors to recognize the commercial potential of their research and to try to exploit it. He also advocated teaching entrepreneurial skills in undergraduate classes.
“We’re under no illusions that this will be easy,” he said. “Higher education does not have a reputation of changing very quickly.”