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Published: Wednesday, 1/30/2013

University of Toledo's Jacobs cites ‘cultural divide’ as universities focus on economic development

BY IGNAZIO MESSINA AND JIM PROVANCE
BLADE STAFF WRITERS

COLUMBUS — University of Toledo President Dr. Lloyd Jacobs on Tuesday said there is resistance to higher education focusing on universities funding economic development and investing in businesses to create jobs.

Dr. Jacobs made his case during a state meeting focused on commercializing university and college research and technologies.

“The cultural divide is extremely deep, very wide, and will be crossed only with great difficulty,” he told the Ohio Board of Regents’ Technology Transfer and Commercialization Task Force.

“I just want us all to understand that this is a tough task that we’re about. … Should we continue? Absolutely. We have to recognize that if nothing else, this is a beginning, not a finish.”

His comments were made two days after a Blade investigation found that UT has paid $1,200 a day to former UT Trustee Richard Stansley to manage the school’s economic development agency — University of Toledo Innovation Enterprises. Mr. Stansley was paid $307,200 last year.

In 2008, before Mr. Stansley took over, the UT trustees funneled $10 million to the nonprofit agency, which since then has invested about $7.5 million in mostly start-up technology and medical-related companies.

A wholly owned subsidiary of the university, UTIE in turn owns several for-profit companies.

Among unanswered questions about the investments are the amount of money given to solar panel maker Xunlight and how much was lost.

A Sept. 19, 2011, UT email obtained by The Blade shows that UTIE gave Xunlight $3 million rather than the $2 million listed last week by Mr. Stansley.

He said Monday that he “oversimplified” his explanation of the investment and that the entire $3 million is safe.

“This is a complicated transaction,” he said.

“The $3 million we made in convertible notes is three different places. Part remained as a convertible note — about $1 million — part of it was converted to common stock.”

He said UTIE owns a “prototype line” taken as an asset from Xunlight. “They have roughly $6 million invested in it,” Mr. Stansley said. “It is a big prototype for the manufacturing process.”

Xunlight officials could not be reached for comment.

Nearly $1.4 million was invested in MWOE Holding, a company working with fuel-cell technology. Mr. Stansley last week said UTIE’s investment was $73,647.

During the meeting in Columbus, Dr. Jacobs did not address Mr. Stansley's compensation or the specific UTIE investments.

The task force — made up of university presidents, corporate chief executives, financial investors, and others — is nearing completion of its immediate mission of recommending changes to foster job creation and successful collaborations with businesses.

Some of those recommendations could make their way into Gov. John Kasich’s two-year budget proposal to be presented to lawmakers on Monday.

The increased emphasis on commercialization, job creation, and work-force development has occurred at a time when state aid to public universities and colleges has largely stagnated in Columbus.

“We are supportive of what you are doing,” Vinny Gupta, the task force’s chairman and chairman of the board of regents, told Dr. Jacobs.

“When you’re trying to do what we’re doing here, which is really leverage … the intellectual assets in our massive university system for the good of this state, you can’t do it when you are stuck in the old model,” said Tom Brady, a UTIE board member. Mr. Brady is chairman of Plastic Technologies Inc. and a task force member.

After the meeting, Mr. Brady said he could not specifically say how much of the invested money would see a return and how much would be a loss for UTIE.

“Like any venture capital fund there will be a high percentage of things that don’t work,” he said. “Sure we have done the homework to see if they will be successful but there is no expectation they will all be all successful.”

Mr. Brady said part of the fund is dedicated to support commercializing the research of faculty members.

Contact Ignazio Messina at: imessina@theblade.com or 419-724-6171.



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