Office of Technology Commercialization partners
By Nancy P. Weiss
The Office of Technology Commercialization is a real mouthful of a name for any entity, but for UConn’s Rita Zangari, executive program director of the 10-year-old initiative, it is the moniker of an exciting public-private partnership that is breaking new ground.
Zangari, along with the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources’ Associate Dean Cameron Faustman and Richard McAvoy, head of the Department of Plant Science and Landscape Architecture, is working closely with Agrivida, a company located in the incubator space in the Agricultural Biotechnology Laboratory.
Agrivida’s parent company is based in Medford, MA, and is the brainchild of two MIT scientists. The start-up was attracted to Storrs through the efforts of Ian Hart, former head of the Department of Animal Science, and other administrators and scientists who saw a business incubator program as a way to enrich student experiences, make technology accessible and foster economic development in the state.
Agrivida accepted the offer to locate in Storrs and added 700 square feet to the existing greenhouse in the Agricultural Biotechnology Building. So far, the company has 10 employees in the state—most are recent UConn graduates. Agrivida is committed to providing internships that lead to full time employment for students upon graduation. “We need to keep an educated workforce in the state,” says Zangari in explaining one of the objectives of the program.
Agrivida is on the forefront of creating energy products from plant material. They are interested in ways of generating biofuels from biomass. To avoid the conflict between raising crops for fuel instead of food, Agrivida has unique technology that enables the conversion of entire plants into biofuel, including the cellulosic stalk and husks. In addition to corn, they continue to work with other plants with the potential to produce energy, such as sorghum and switchgrass.
The public-private partnership between the University of Connecticut and Agrivida opens up many possibilities for both organizations. As part of the agreement, Agrivida is leased space; allocated use of the lab and greenhouse; receives access to computer and library facilities and basic services such as utilities; and receives faculty consultation by arrangement, student employees and interns, business advice and secretarial support for three to five years. Agrivida has completed the construction of additional greenhouse space that will revert to the University in five years.
Says Associate Dean Faustman, “The partnership with Agrivida has been wonderful for the University in general and for the College specifically. There is mutual benefit from the professional interactions occurring between College and Agrivida staff, and many students are gaining practical work experience as part-time employees. Agrivida has been wonderful to work with and they even participated in the College’s Career Night this past November.”
“Agrivida’s partnership with the University, Technology Incubation Program and the College has been a valuable resource to the company. In addition to access to first-class research facilities, UConn has provided Agrivida with talented individuals who have contributed to our company’s continued technical development. The University’s faculty and staff have always been incredibly helpful in our operations, and we look forward to further collaborations,” says Jeremy Schley Johnson, an Agrivida cofounder.
Once the start-up objectives are achieved, Agrivida will vacate the incubator space and relocate in Connecticut. Assistance is provided to help them remain in the state.
While Zangari, who has been with the OTC for seven years, works closely with Agrivida and the emerging tech park, she credits Ian Hart, who served as director of industrial initiatives, with wooing Agrivida to the Storrs campus and solidifying the relationship. Businesses interested in incubator space are urged to contact Rita Zangari email@example.com for more information.