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Tuesday, February 7th, 2012
By Luis M. Proenza
Our vision for Akron and all of Northeast Ohio is of a place where the artificial boundaries that separate university and community blur and become irrelevant.
As a metropolitan-sited institution, The University of Akron aligns itself with the local and regional community to build economic, social and physical health. We seek the development of an innovation ecosystem that encompasses campuses, business districts and neighborhoods. In physical terms, our vision is of a vibrant, mixed-use environment that is pedestrian friendly and in which everything that happens is somehow about learning and health and wellness.
Economically, we are strong proponents of collective impact, and have established a broad-based and robust platform for regional economic development, which has come to be known as the “Akron Model.” As this exemplar attracts national attention for strides in economic revitalization, we are increasingly asked how and why we are achieving success.
We explain that a changing economy or changing technological underpinnings of any industry require the institutions, themselves, to change, and that the Akron Model provides a useful framework for such a transformation.
We demonstrate how, through innovative collaborations, initiatives and interactions, metropolitan-sited institutions can play a vital role in sustaining and growing their regions in this global, knowledge and conceptual economy. And we tell them that, beyond the many statistics and facts that detail our successes, the most important outcome of the Akron Model is the least quantifiable and most intangible. It is a kind of entrepreneurial optimism, a belief that our collective impact can achieve audacious goals and improbable outcomes.
The Akron Model enables us to believe that we can accomplish bold endeavors because we have accomplished bold endeavors, and we will continue to do so by using the Akron Model as our framework.
For example, our partnership with three regional health care centers and a nearby medical school, supported by additional public, private and philanthropic entities, launched the Austen BioInnovation Institute in Akron in 2008. The institute seeks to establish Akron as the world’s leading location for biomaterials and medicine, and health care innovation and commercialization. Because of the university’s strength in synthetic materials and polymer research, we chose to focus on innovations that would draw on our existing knowledge base.
Another key component of the Akron Model is the University Park Alliance (UPA), which was established more than a decade ago with major support from The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. This neighborhood revitalization initiative catalyzes community engagement and private investment in a 50-block area adjacent to campus.
UPA continues to attract additional partners, who have brought new capabilities and vitality to the organization. The latest member to join the UPA team is the global real estate firm, KUD International, a subsidiary of the Japanese construction company Kajima Corporation. KUD signed a master services agreement in 2011 to develop projects outlined in UPA’s master plan to revitalize four districts in downtown Akron.
In commenting on Akron’s new relationship with KUD, The Wall Street Journal noted that many real estate investors pass over the nation’s midsection, while Akron now looks to the potential for hundreds of millions of dollars in construction and renovations, including new housing, offices and retail development.
Northeast Ohio can compete in today’s global marketplace, but to do so we must act regionally and collaboratively, we must welcome partners from across the globe as well as from across the street, and we must be bold in our vision, thinking and action.
Dr. Luis M. Proenza is president of The University of Akron, and a member of the executive committee for the Council on Competitiveness, and the Government-University-Industry-Research Roundtable of the National Academies.
Tags: Anchor Institutions, Austen BioInnovation Institute, Collaboration, Knight Foundation, Leadership, The University of Akron, University Park Alliance
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Monday, June 20th, 2011
“In periods where there is no leadership, society stands still. Progress occurs when courageous, skillful leaders seize the opportunity to change things for the better.”
Harry S. Truman
Leadership is something we know we need. It’s especially necessary in times of economic transition, when a vision for the future translates into new jobs and improved quality of life for a whole lot of people.
On one level, leadership is the art of seeing the invisible. On another, it’s the ability to motivate people, helping them recognize a future filled with opportunity. When people believe their own needs and hopes can be fulfilled, leadership has succeeded.
None of this is easy. Right now, we have what amounts to a business plan for future growth. That we are a city with a growth plan didn’t happen by accident. Our community benefits from local leaders who accepted the challenge, analyzed Akron’s market and decided on a course of action that involves the collaborations of several institutions, including three hospitals, the Akron Public Schools, the University of Akron and the Austen BioInnovation Institute.
On a national scale, Akron is earning the distinction that our leaders worked hard to earn. A 2007 Brookings Institute report, titled “Restoring Prosperity Case Study: Akron, Ohio,” pointed to our sustained vision and leadership as a driver of progress.
Just last fall, the Austen BioInnovation Institute and the University of Akron Research Foundation became one of only six winners nationwide in a challenge grant competition managed by the U.S. Department of Commerce. Specifically, the federal government’s $1 million award to Akron recognized our solid approach to identifying new ideas, assessing their commercial potential and guiding the commercialization process.
What we have going on in Akron is special.
At University Park Alliance, we’re proud to be a part of this transformation. Our job is to create a sense of place in central Akron, so as new jobs are generated, we also build new housing, shopping and other neighborhood amenities.
The ultimate test of leadership is execution. It’s about putting talk into action, and bringing into clear view what was once invisible. We can see changes in Akron. The task ahead is to push forward to realize our full potential — to create new jobs, new engaged neighborhoods and a new future for our children.
Tags: Akron Public Schools, Anchor Institutions, Austen BioInnovation Institute, Brookings Institution, Community, Leadership, Placemaking, The University of Akron, UA Research Foundation, University Park Alliance
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