SIU builds business, research connection

Saturday, March 27, 2004

The Associated Press

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- A Southern Illinois University effort to turn more of its professors' research into money-making businesses is growing.

On Friday, BioInsite LCC took up residence near the university campus in a building constructed 14 years ago with the intent of becoming a research park. It has gained tenants over the years, but BioInsite is the most significant so far.

BioInsite LCC sells the know-how and means to clean up contaminated soil and water based on technology developed by a former SIU biologist. School officials say its opening shows progress in meeting SIU's longtime goal of ushering university research out of the labs and into the market.

Even after building the Dunn-Richmond Economic Development Center in 1990, the first in a planned $40 million, 12-building research park, the university was slow to increase faculty spinoffs, the businesses that can result when academics make discoveries with market potential.

The building was to house those operations, as well as other small businesses.

The small businesses came, but faculty spinoffs have been rare at SIU, said technology transfer specialist Jeff Myers, who is in charge of helping the process along.

He said the fact that three have started from professors' research in the past four years means the school is making progress. Few ever got off the ground before then, he said.

The trend is expected to continue, said John Koropchak, vice chancellor for research whom chancellor Walter Wendler charged with increasing spinoffs when Wendler arrived in 2001.

More SIU researchers are working on potentially marketable inventions, he said, as evidenced by the number of "disclosures" they must file with the university when they pursue potentially groundbreaking, and thus profitable, work.

Such disclosures went from four in 1996 to around 20 each of the past three years, Koropchak said.

BioInsite will sell the technology developed by former SIU biologist John Coates, a co-owner with his chemist wife, Susan O'Connor, and business partner, Gary Miller. SIU and industrial cleanup company EcoDigital Development Group of Mt. Vernon own minority stakes.

Coates is now a professor at the University of California-Berkeley.

Construction on the second building in the planned research park is scheduled to start in the fall.

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