University-Related Research Parks Offer Device Firms a Range of Benefits

September 1, 1998

10 Min Read
University-Related Research Parks Offer Device Firms a Range of Benefits

Medical Device & Diagnostic Industry Magazine
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An MD&DI September 1998 Column

Advantages include access to students and faculty and increased opportunities for joint research and continuing education.

The conceptual wall between academia and the medical device industry has been crumbling for years, although the physical walls have remained in place. Now university-related research parks are bringing academic institutions and medical manufacturers into physical proximity, offering facilities located on or near campuses and increasing opportunities for cooperative ventures.

For MiniMed, Inc. (Sylmar, CA), the invitation to relocate to such a park couldn't have come at a better time. The manufacturer of insulin pumps and other devices to help treat diabetes had outgrown its current facilities and, by company founder Alfred Mann's own admission, was "bursting at the seams." As a result, MiniMed executives began searching for a new location for the company's corporate headquarters and principal operations. Their goal was to find a convenient location for existing employees that provided good value and perhaps offered additional synergies and benefits.

Phillips' Origen Center houses Metagen in Stout Technology Park.

"We'd been searching for a site for quite some time," says Eric Kentor, senior vice president and general counsel for MiniMed. "When this proposal came to us, it provided the answers we were looking for." Under the proposal, Mann would ground-lease 28 acres of land on the California State University Northridge (CSUN) campus—only 10 miles from the company's current facility—where he could develop a five-building, 720,000-sq-ft biotech park that would eventually become home to MiniMed and other entities owned by the entrepreneur.

A university-related location was also the answer for Metagen (Menomonie, WI), an orthopedic product and technology development company. Metagen relocated from the basement of founder Wes Johnson's home to its current facility at Stout Technology Park, a research park affiliated with the University of Wisconsin—Stout. The move came shortly after Johnson's company got off the ground in 1995, when he met Bob Cervenka, CEO of Phillips Plastics Corp. (Menomonie, WI). "Phillips was interested in supporting a medical device subsidiary in orthopedics, and they agreed to be a corporate partner with Metagen," says Johnson. "So we moved Metagen to the Phillips' Origen Center, which is part of Stout Technology Park." The result? A successful and productive partnership between the university and Metagen.


A university-related research park is a business park located on or near a university campus that is somehow affiliated with that educational institution. According to Charles Dilks, president of the Association of University Related Research Parks (AURRP; Washington, DC), parks that join AURRP may be for-profit or not-for-profit entities owned wholly or partially by a university or related entity. Parks that are not university owned may still be members if they have a contractual or formal relationship with a university. "Both established companies and start-ups are benefiting from locating in such research parks," says Frank Wein, director of North Campus development for CSUN.

Ahmed Enany, executive director of the Southern California Biomedical Council (Los Angeles), which was instrumental in bringing CSUN and MiniMed together for development of Northridge's biotech park, agrees that there are many benefits to locating in a campus environment. Key advantages noted by Enany and others include the following:

Workforce Accessibility. As unemployment figures hit record lows and the demand for college-educated employees exceeds the supply, recruiting talented employees has become difficult. Being near and having a formal affiliation with a university can help recruitment efforts. "It's an extremely competitive marketplace when it comes to recruiting technical personnel," says MiniMed's Kentor. "Obviously, being located on the campus itself, a park offers ready-made opportunities for recruiting new graduates." These ready-made opportunities extend beyond recruiting from the engineering and technical disciplines; university parks also offer access to potential employees who have backgrounds in fields such as marketing and business administration.

Not all university-related research parks are created equal. Although some maintain—and even require—a high level of interaction between their tenants and the university, others are related to the educational institution in name only. As a result, companies considering relocation to a research park should first determine the nature of its involvement with the university.

Charles Dilks, president of the Association of University Related Research Parks (AURRP; Washington, DC) points out that "if a park is a member of AURRP, it is very likely to have some relationship with the university. That may be ownership, or the park may be located on university land. Some parks are located adjacent to the campuses of their shareholders, and some are quite a distance away. The further away the parks are, the less easily companies have access to the university facilities."

Of course, as Ahmed Enany, executive director of the Southern California Biomedical Council (Los Angeles) notes, not every type of medical device firm will find it necessary to locate near a university. "There are firms that might be doing standard work that doesn't require collaboration with universities or a reliance on scientific research," he says. "If that's the case, being close to a university is not as important. But if you're doing cutting-edge work, and if your source of innovation is based on scientific resources and you can't live without this sort of collaboration, it becomes imperative."

For a list of AURRP's member parks that includes specifics about park locations, sizes, and characteristics, contact AURRP, 1730 K St., Ste. 700, Washington, DC 20006; 202/828-4167, fax: 202/223-4745,

Park tenants can enlist students in work-study or internship programs, hire faculty as part-time consultants, or use them as sounding boards for various ideas or innovations. For example, since locating at Stout Technology Park, Metagen has teamed up with university professors to look at the characterization and testing of various alloys and their surfaces. Johnson says the company has also benefited from employing students on a part-time basis. Similarly, MiniMed plans to establish internship and work-study programs with students at CSUN.

Amenities. The peripheral benefits of locating next to a university are also worth consideration. "University-relatedness is very important to tenants of parks because it generally gives them special access to those universities," says Dilks, who is also senior vice president of University City Science Center (Philadelphia), a research park affiliated with the University of Pennsylvania. "In many places that means access to libraries, gymnasiums, faculty centers, and things of that sort. That's very important."

Continuing Education and Training. College campuses are a great resource for the continuing education and training of employees. Park tenants can often rely on campus resources to facilitate such learning. Additionally, "many of these campuses want to increase their links with the private sector, so they're developing various academic programs that are of interest to medical device firms or firms in the biomedical industry in general," says Enany. As an example, he mentions the need for employees trained in regulatory issues. "Most of the people I know who are in quality control or regulatory affairs end up learning the skills of the trade by trial and error," Enany says. "It shouldn't be that way. If there's a program at a nearby campus that you can enroll your employees in and get them formal education in the regulatory arena, that would be a benefit."

Network of Resources. When companies locate in research parks, they generally become part of a networked environment, sharing resources and information with other firms. Such contacts can be particularly useful for startup companies.

Colocation with Similar Firms. Simply being part of a cluster of medical device or biotechnology firms can enhance a company's visibility. Such clustering also provides the whole region with an identity. As a region's reputation for welcoming medical device companies spreads, it can attract potential employees and other related businesses.

Research Opportunities. Representatives from both device firms and universities agree that the opportunity for carrying out joint research projects is a definite plus. "The medical device industry is becoming increasingly science-dependent. Today's sophisticated devices incorporate electronic software and hardware, and new materials are being used. Of course, many of today's devices are also implantable," notes Enany. "University research is becoming important as a source of innovation in these areas, so access to and involvement with a university is important."

Tenants in university-related research parks aren't the only ones who prosper. Educational institutions benefit from keeping close ties with cutting-edge companies located on or near the campus that can provide students and faculty with opportunities for internships, part- or full-time employment, joint research projects, product development, and more. "It gives a university a leg up on institutions that don't have those ties," explains CSUN's Wein.

"Universities are just now beginning to understand how they can relate to the commercial world without interfering with their core missions of education, research, and advancement of knowledge," says AURRP's Dilks. "Research parks offer a way for them to do so."

Mention university-related research parks and many people immediately think of North Carolina's Research Triangle Park (RTP), home to more than 130 private, governmental, and nonprofit institutions. Named for the triangle formed by the three universities with which it's affiliated—the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Duke University in Durham, and North Carolina State University in Raleigh—RTP has achieved continuing success and international recognition.

That wasn't always the case. RTP was created in 1959 by leaders from business, academia, and industry "to try to reverse the 'brain drain' that was occurring in North Carolina in the 1950s," explains Research Triangle Foundation president Jim Roberson. "Essentially, people with advanced degrees had to leave the state to find a job if they weren't somehow related to agriculture. Since North Carolina has three major research universities so close together, we thought that if we could attract corporate research facilities to the area, perhaps they'd hire some of our graduates, who wouldn't have to leave the area to find a job."

The idea was good, but convincing companies to move to RTP was difficult. "In those days, North Carolina wasn't perceived as a place where you located major research facilities," explains Roberson. "But now that's hardly the case." What helped turn the corner? In 1965, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) decided to locate the only NIH office outside of Bethesda, MD, at RTP. That same year, IBM chose to locate in the park. Having two strong, highly visible organizations committed to RTP enhanced its credibility and got the recruitment ball rolling.

In addition, "the three universities have really been the engine that has fueled what has happened here," says Roberson. "The excellence that they have in certain areas has been the magnet that has drawn people to the park."

RTP has attracted people from around the globe. "I think this park's success has inspired people all over the world. We get two or three study teams a week coming out [to tour our facilities]. I just had a group from the Philippines this morning, and we had Bulgarians here last week," Roberson says. "They all want to know how we do it."


Although universities in congested cities such as Los Angeles or New York have little land to spare, those with land available may be increasingly interested in developing research parks.

"I wouldn't be surprised if there were a greater trend toward this type of arrangement," says MiniMed's Kentor, who expects the first phase of the Northridge development to be completed in mid-1999. "We believe that sites such as the one we're creating will provide an attractive environment that will appeal equally to other companies as well as ours."

Figures from the last two decades indicate that Kentor's hunch may be correct. According to Jim Roberson, president of Research Triangle Foundation (which owns Research Triangle Park in North Carolina), in 1980 there were approximately 15 university-related research parks in the United States; today there are more than 150.

"There have been all kinds of motivations for the creation of science and research parks," says Roberson, who is also a past president of AURRP. "In the end, I truly believe they benefit the tenants. The unique environment and opportunities that research parks provide—and the opportunity for interaction between faculty, staff, and corporate researchers—has had a tremendous impact on the U.S. economy and on the prominence of American industry in the world."

Romina Shane is a freelance writer based in Brea, CA.

Copyright ©1998 Medical Device & Diagnostic Industry

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