Wal­tons do­nate $23.7M to foster re­search at UA

Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - FRONT PAGE - JAIME ADAME

FAYETTEVILLE — A $23.7 mil­lion gift from the Wal­ton Fam­ily Char­i­ta­ble Sup­port Foun­da­tion to boost re­search and com­mer­cial­iza­tion ef­forts at the Univer­sity of Arkansas, Fayetteville in­cludes money “to at­tract five ‘star’ sci­en­tists,” ac­cord­ing to a gift agree­ment be­tween the foun­da­tion and the univer­sity.

Univer­sity lead­ers de­scribed the five-year grant — an­nounced Fri­day to in­clude $5 mil­lion in sup­port of fac­ulty hir­ing, with the rest go­ing to var­i­ous sup­port ini­tia­tives for re­searchers — as pro­vid­ing a lift to state eco­nomic-de­vel­op­ment ef­forts.

“It’s not just the re­searchers at the univer­sity that will ben­e­fit from this, cit­i­zens across Arkansas and be­yond will ben­e­fit be­cause this will help us in­crease the univer­sity’s eco­nomic and so­cial im­pact on the state,” Stacy Leeds, UA’s vice chan­cel­lor for eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment, said in a state­ment.

Out of the to­tal, $5 mil­lion will sup­port fac­ulty hires in what UA is call­ing “sig­na­ture re­search ar­eas,” ac­cord­ing to the univer­sity’s an­nounce­ment.

Leeds said fac­ulty mem­bers and ad­min­is­tra­tors “have been work­ing on the sig­na­ture re­search ar­eas and the de­tails are be­ing re­fined and will be de­ployed soon, likely in the spring se­mes­ter.”

The univer­sity re­cently hired a new top re­search of­fi­cer, Daniel Sui, who be­gan Oct. 1 as the univer­sity’s vice chan­cel­lor for re­search and in­no­va­tion. Leeds said Sui is lead­ing the ef­fort on iden­ti­fy­ing the pri­or­ity re­search ar­eas.

The Wal­ton Fam­ily Char­i­ta­ble Sup­port Foun­da­tion, es­tab­lished by the fam­ily of Wal­mart founder Sam Wal­ton, has pre­vi­ously given mil­lions in sup­port to UA, in­clud­ing a $120 mil­lion gift an­nounced last year sup­port­ing arts ed­u­ca­tion and a $300 mil­lion gift an­nounced in 2002, at the time con­sid­ered the big­gest do­na­tion in sup­port of a pub­lic univer­sity.

“Uni­ver­si­ties are pow­er­ful en­gines in driv­ing re­gional and na­tional economies. There is even more po­ten­tial

for our uni­ver­si­ties to ac­cel­er­ate eco­nomic growth and de­vel­op­ment,” Jim Wal­ton said in a state­ment re­leased by UA.

The gift agree­ment, re­leased by the univer­sity un­der the state’s pub­lic-dis­clo­sure law, in­cludes a sep­a­rate “grant re­port­ing met­rics doc­u­ment” that pro­vides more in­for­ma­tion about new fac­ulty hir­ing ex­pected to be com­pleted “by the end of 2023.”

“In­vest­ing in bring­ing in­di­vid­u­als to the Univer­sity of Arkansas who have an out­stand­ing, in­no­va­tive, and col­lab­o­ra­tive re­search pro­gram aligned in these sig­na­ture ar­eas is a key strat­egy to build­ing the re­search en­gine re­sult­ing in suc­cess­ful out­comes and in­tel­lec­tual prop­erty,” the doc­u­ment states.

The doc­u­ment lists six “pre­ferred qualifications,” in­clud­ing “out­stand­ing pro­duc­tiv­ity in re­search out­puts” such as pub­li­ca­tions and patents, and be­ing a “se­nior or mid-ca­reer fac­ulty mem­ber rec­og­nized as a leader or ris­ing-leader” in a field that’s part of a “sig­na­ture re­search area.”

The univer­sity an­nounced that $5 mil­lion of the gift will go to­ward re­search with po­ten­tial for com­mer­cial­iza­tion.

“Re­search with com­mer­cial­iza­tion po­ten­tial is the type of re­search that will likely lead to in­tel­lec­tual prop­erty pro­tec­tion for the in­ven­tor and for the Univer­sity,” Leeds ex­plained. “The typ­i­cal path is that the re­search leads to an in­ven­tion dis­clo­sure and then a de­ci­sion is made whether to move for­ward with seek­ing a pa­tent.”

A pa­tent would then lead to “tech­nol­ogy [that] can be

li­censed, ei­ther to a startup com­pany or to an ex­ist­ing com­pany,” Leeds said, with the com­pany then tak­ing the in­ven­tion to mar­ket.

Other parts of the gift, as an­nounced by the univer­sity, in­clude $3.6 mil­lion go­ing to help UA’s Tech­nol­ogy Ven­tures, which helps fac­ulty mem­bers pro­tect and de­velop in­tel­lec­tual prop­erty, and $2 mil­lion to as­sist Sui with var­i­ous new ini­tia­tives.

An­other $2 mil­lion will help with eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment “strate­gic ini­tia­tives, op­er­a­tions and pro­grams” un­der Leeds. Grant dol­lars to­tal­ing $2 mil­lion will help with “gap” fund­ing to help re­searchers make it to com­mer­cial­iza­tion.

Chan­cel­lor Joe Stein­metz, in a state­ment, said a univer­sity seek­ing to “in­spire” com­mer­cial­iza­tion “must pro­vide a cul­ture of in­no­va­tion, a broad spec­trum of part­ner­ships across the re­gion and around the coun­try, and tar­geted fi­nan­cial in­vest­ments.”

Robert Li­tan, a non­res­i­dent se­nior fel­low at the Brook­ings In­sti­tu­tion, in an email said uni­ver­si­ties “vary widely in their abil­i­ties to help their schol­ars com­mer­cial­ize their in­no­va­tions.”

“Hope­fully, the Wal­ton gift will as­sist the Univer­sity of Arkansas and its fac­ulty bring more ideas out of the lab and into the mar­ket­place. The coun­try needs as much of this kind of ac­tiv­ity as it can get,” Li­tan said.

The gift pushes fundrais­ing as part of the univer­sity’s Cam­paign Arkansas to more than $1 bil­lion, UA an­nounced. The cam­paign runs through June 2020 and has a goal to raise $1.25 bil­lion.

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