Young tech incubator STAR Park already planning expansion [Austin American-Statesman]
(Austin American-Statesman (TX) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) Sept. 19--SAN MARCOS -- David Irvin stood in the small lab and carefully weighed a white powder that could hold the key to boosting the energy of Air Force jet fuel. The chemical breakthrough might have remained just a concept if Irvin didn't have access to highly coveted, high-tech lab space and experts at Texas State University to help start-up firms like his get cutting edge ideas off the ground.
The university opened the STAR Park -- the acronym stands for science, technology and advanced research -- less than a year ago, and the $7 million, 14,000-square-foot technology incubator is nearly full. Texas State officials, who hope the facility will put the university on the map as a technology innovator, already are planning to more than double that footprint with an $8 million expansion.
That expansion, which would add an additional 22,000 square feet, is planned to open within the next two years. Other additions are planned for the 38-acre site over the next two decades, as the demand and the financing surface. University officials are negotiating with various entities to help fund the next expansion, but declined to provide details.
"We want to create a critical mass that makes the region attractive to technology companies," said STAR Park director Stephen Frayser. "It may not be natural to think of Texas State first, but we have a tremendous amount of things going on here, and the place is really poised to take off."
Situated between Austin and San Antonio, San Marcos might be positioned as a new technology growth area because of available land, affordable housing and easy access to several universities and other technology companies, Frayser said. Staff members at STAR Park companies said that Texas State has some of the best facilities in the nation for materials science, with cutting edge equipment and one of the few remaining university foundries in the country, where metallurgists can develop specialized tools, materials and equipment.
The STAR Park leases space to four firms. They get full use of wet labs, which include specialized ventilation, drainage and other systems that aren't readily available for rent, as well as access to Texas State professors, specialized equipment worth millions of dollars and a waiting troop of undergraduate, master's and doctoral students to hire as interns and employees.
Irvin's company, Systems and Materials Research Corp., for example, uses university equipment, consults with a Texas State chemistry professor and has hired several of the university's recent graduates.
The university, in turn, is able to attract better students and faculty. In an era of stagnant federal research dollars, the university is getting paid for research and development through this avenue. Professors are hired as consultants, and the university can negotiate for royalties and licensing rights on some inventions developed at the STAR Park. The partnership with these companies exposes students and professors to cutting edge research with real world applications, Frayser said.
The STAR Park companies are also creating jobs, with 17 employed there now. The companies continue to hire interns and employees who are Texas State students and alumni. Frayser estimates that about 40 people will work there within the next two years.
Technology incubators at universities are nothing new. Frayser estimated there are about 200 in the United States, with the first one built at Stanford University in the 1950s. The University of Texas also operates a technology incubator, which opened in 1989 and focuses on firms working in information technology, biomedical science, wireless telecommunications and clean energy. That UT incubator typically admits five to 10 new companies a year and has worked with more than 100 companies in the past 24 years.
MicroPower Global, one of the first companies to join the STAR Park, has been working with Texas State for about five years to develop a unique semiconductor. When energy is produced -- whether by solar panels or coal-burning plants or other means -- about half of the energy is lost as waste heat. MicroPower Global's devices can capture that heat, as well as the heat from computers or servers, and turn it back into electricity.
Texas State "is one of the best facilities in the U.S. for this," said Aruna Ruwan Dedigama, senior engineer for MicroPower Global. His team uses a $4.5 million set of equipment at the university campus, essentially a giant vacuum tube that allows engineers to create the semiconductor devices and manipulate the pieces on an atomic level.
Another STAR Park participant, Quantum Materials Corp., is working on nanotechnology to improve solar panels, LED light panels and biomedical sensors. Systems and Materials Research Corp. has developed nanoadditives that can improve jet fuel, windscreens and pyrotechnics for military applications.
Texas State spent $6.5 million to build the STAR Park, while San Marcos chipped in $500,000 for infrastructure improvements to support it, Frayser said. Funding didn't come from tuition dollars.
In just the past four years, Texas State has begun to make a name for itself in the material science field, a growth area in the technology sector and one ripe for innovations, Frayser said. The field is focused on making a range of materials -- from computer chips to helicopter windscreens -- stronger, lighter, faster and more energy efficient.
Thanks in part to money from the Texas Emerging Technology Fund, Texas State has added 11 faculty positions in the materials science field, allowing the university to develop semiconductors, polymers and nanomaterials. A new Ph.D. program in materials science, engineering and commercialization combines chemistry, biochemistry, electrical engineering, materials and business. In addition to their science classes, Ph.D. students take business development courses and participate in an entrepreneurship boot camp and symposiums that prepare them to deal with venture capitalists and potential investors.
"We're here to serve as a bridge between the private sector and the university," Frayser said.
(c)2013 Austin American-Statesman, Texas
Visit Austin American-Statesman, Texas at www.statesman.com
Distributed by MCT Information Services
[ Back To Technology News's Homepage ]