Virginia Tech board engages in discussion about university’s economic impact
Virginia Tech’s leadership in spurring economic development and driving job creation across the Commonwealth of Virginia was highlighted during the university’s November Board of Visitors meeting.
Jason El Koubi, president and CEO of the Virginia Economic Development Partnership; Lance Collins, vice president and executive director of the Virginia Tech Innovation Campus; and Brandy Salmon, associate vice president for innovation and partnerships, spoke to the board during its information session.
El Koubi said the Virginia Economic Development Partnership is investing heavily in talent and workforce development.
“We want to position the commonwealth squarely among the top 10 states in the nation for job growth,” El Koubi said, noting the importance of involving every region in the state in this objective. “Virginia Tech’s influence on this, the importance of your mission to job creation in Virginia, cannot be overstated.”
El Koubi stressed that colleges and universities are essential to bringing new business to the state.
“We are widely recognized as one of the top states for higher education, something we can be very proud of and something that we market heavily,” he said.
He said a huge part of the commonwealth’s strength in higher education, and in producing an educated workforce, is credited to Virginia Tech. Citing State Council of Higher Education for Virginia data, El Koubi said Virginia Tech produces 28 percent of the commonwealth’s bachelor’s degrees and 38 percent of the state’s doctorates in STEM studies.
New developments, such as the Virginia Tech Innovation Campus being built in Alexandria, serve as a prime example when speaking to potential new partners, he said.
Collins, who has led the Innovation Campus since 2020, described the campus’ direct and indirect economic impact on both the Northern Virginia region and across the commonwealth.
“From the onset, I’ve thought of the Innovation Campus as having an economic development mission,” Collins told the board.
He outlined enrollment growth from 2020-22, highlighting student increases in key target constituencies.
“I’m very proud that we are growing the number of women and underrepresented minorities in significant ways, and that represents real hard work,” Collins said.
The number of Innovation Campus graduate students has grown from 109 in 2020 to 249 in 2022. The number of women has increased from 24 in 2020 to 71 in 2022, and the number of underrepresented minorities has increased from 5 in 2020 to 54 in 2022.
The Innovation Campus has a goal of becoming the most diverse graduate tech campus in the country. Its students are currently enrolled at Virginia Tech’s Northern Virginia Center in Falls Church until the Innovation Campus Academic Building One opens in 2024.
Collins pointed out the Innovation Campus’ direct impact on the region and Alexandria through the current construction of the 11-story building in Potomac Yard. To date, the Innovation Campus project, which is the southern anchor of National Landing, has employed more than 840 workers and awarded 25.8 percent of its contracts to small, women-owned, and minority-owned businesses (SWAM). Whiting-Turner, the construction manager, has committed to achieving 34 percent SWAM subcontractors by building completion.
Turning to academics and plans for a curriculum grounded in real-world experiences, Collins said the campus will make the experiential learning projects the centerpiece of its graduate education. At full build, the Innovation Campus is anticipating 150 projects annually all done in collaboration with both private and public organizations, he said.
“We want this to be an entrepreneurial campus,” he said, noting that Northern Virginia is undersized in entrepreneurial activity relative to the scale its economy. “We are building a track within the projects where students who are interested in becoming entrepreneurs can learn more about and actually practice product development.”
Collins said the Innovation Campus faculty envisions that a portion of these projects will turn into startup companies. “There is real excitement in the community about this prospect,” he said.
He also outlined some of the indirect economic impacts of the Alexandria campus.
“The National Landing Business Improvement District has named the Innovation Campus as one of the drivers — along with Amazon, Boeing, JBG Smith, and others — of growth in the region,” he said. “That is largely a reflection that these companies are so hungry for talent — talent is the limiting factor for the growth of these companies. It’s not money. It’s not ideas. It’s talent.”
Board of Visitors member Dave Calhoun, president and CEO of The Boeing Company and a member of the Innovation Campus Advisory Board, followed up Collins’ comments, saying, “I think the sky’s the limit around here. We don’t want this to just be a big company Innovation Campus. The element that’s entrepreneurial is maybe the most important part for the economic development of that region. The big guys are already there, but I think the entrepreneurial activity is going to be the real difference for Virginia.”
Salmon reported on the work of Innovation and Partnerships office, which includes the complementary centers, LINK + LICENSE + LAUNCH, the business partnership arm of the university.
“We offer a value proposition to companies that includes leveraging Virginia Tech’s strengths while gaining access to work-ready talent and cutting-edge research while elevating their brand,” she said. LINK helps companies navigate a highly competitive race for talent by thinking more holistically and longer term to create new opportunities for students, co-design programs, enter into productive research collaborations, and more.
Salmon noted that approximately 1,000 companies engaged with Virginia Tech last year, from sponsored research to affiliate programs to philanthropy, all with an eye toward shared value.
In addition to engaging with companies seeking to partner with the university, the team also ensures discoveries made at Virginia Tech are translated to market. A big emphasis of this work is to support a culture of innovation at the university and build competencies among the community. LICENSE + LAUNCH have recently started offering a Tech Transfer Bootcamp and Start-up Labs, fully-customized license and new venture training to help faculty, researchers, post-doctorate students, and graduate students be equipped to participate in tech transfer. These trainings complement the university’s Proof-of-Concept Program grants and newly launched Presidential Post-Doctoral Fellows program dedicated to innovation.
“This work is really important to Virginia Tech and our region, and we focus a lot of our energy on building culture. We are working hard at Virginia Tech to encourage a culture of innovation and partnership,” said Salmon.