State News

Commerce secretary touts brainpower in business

Posted March 15, 2011 4:04 a.m. EDT
Updated March 15, 2011 4:06 p.m. EDT

— A member of President Obama's cabinet and Gov. Beverly Perdue are trying to focus attention on the business potential of building brainpower at the country's universities.

The National Advisory Council on Innovation and Entrepreneurship, which tries to improve how ideas and research from federally funded university labs reach the marketplace, held its first public meeting at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill on Tuesday. U.S. Commerce Secretary Gary Locke urged UNC and other university educators to focus on creating new businesses and jobs.

”How do we take the great research that’s occurring in places like Chapel Hill and get them commercialized so they make great products and services that benefit people, not just in America but all around the world?” Locke said.

The Obama administration's view is that universities and other higher education institutions are critical to promoting innovation and keeping America competitive in the 21st century.

During the last 25 to 30 years, about 40 million jobs were created by businesses that were less than 5 years old at the time, Locke said. The U.S. needs dozens of start-ups every year to grow into billion-dollar companies, he added.

"It first starts with those start-up companies, those innovators, those entrepreneurs that have a great idea, whether working at a university or college or working in someone’s garage,” he said. "They start off small, but eventually they become the Googles, the Intels, the Microsofts of the world, and we need more of those.”

UNC Chancellor Holden Thorp said he wants to see the Triangle compete successfully with San Francisco and Boston for new business development. He said the biggest challenge may be attracting savvy business strategists away from the larger high-tech hubs.

"It's not just how to do we get things started, but how do we grow them to big enough businesses that they make a dent in the jobs picture for America,” Thorp said.