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Wallace H. Coulter Centennial Celebration

Remarks by President John A. Fry, November 21, 2013, at "Global Innovation Partnership Forum"

Good afternoon, and welcome to Drexel University.

Thanks to all of you for joining us, from around the world. I met some of you last year, at the first Forum.

That event took place in the shadow of Hurricane Sandy, which dealt a blow to this part of the United States that we really hadn’t felt before. The recovery is still going on in some coastal areas.

And thinking back on that time, I’m struck anew by the wide-ranging relevance of the work you do. I know some of you, including some Drexel researchers, are at work on technologies that improve Healthcare in rural and low-tech communities around the world.

Dr. Wan Shih’s portable breast cancer screening device is just one example. Our students also work directly with medical equipment in Africa, through Drexel’s weServe program.

Here in America, at least, we have a tendency to think of those projects as solving a global problem, happening somewhere else. But Hurricane Sandy, which put incredible stress on hospitals in major American cities, reminded us that there’s a need for flexible and resilient healthcare technology everywhere.

The developed world and the developing world face the same challenges. And the biomedical innovation community is there to meet those challenges. I’m pleased and proud that you’re here this week. 

Let me acknowledge Dr. Banu Onaral and her great team, as well as Dr. Julie Mostov and the Office of International Programs, for putting this amazing event together, with support from the Office of Protocol in Institutional Advancement.

Days like this are very important to Drexel, because one of our goals is to be a nexus for innovators. Last week, for example, I had the privilege of speaking on campus to a group of city planning experts and city officials. They came to Drexel for a conference on The New American City run by the organization CityAge. And they represented a critical audience for Drexel, because we have a vision, which I’ll speak about in a moment, to transform our neighborhood and the heart of Philadelphia, and boost economic growth and quality of life throughout our region.

But this group is even more exciting to host than that one, because the foundation of our vision is Drexel’s excellence in and commitment to translational research. That excellence is built on partnerships like the ones represented in this room. And the pinnacle of those partnerships is the Coulter-Drexel Translational Partnership Program, our collaboration with the Coulter Foundation.

Today we celebrate those relationships, and the life and legacy of Wallace Coulter. Let me welcome Mara Neal, who’s come from Miami to join our celebration on behalf of the Foundation. Thank you, Mara.

I’d also like to point out a few more people at Drexel who make this partnership work: Davood Tashayyod, our Coulter Project Director, and Dr. Robert McGrath and Dr. Alexey Melischuk from the Office of Technology Commercialization. Also, Rifat Pamukcu co-chairs the Coulter-Drexel Partnership Program with Banu.

And thanks to the members and advisors of our Coulter Oversight Committee, and to the countless alumni and friends in the regional commercialization community who have helped us. This week gives us the chance to re-energize our joint commitment to developing life-saving technologies. It’s a great opportunity.

Wallace Coulter would have been 100 years old this year. Though he didn’t reach that milestone in body, his vision and spirit continues to inspire amazing achievements.

Mr. Coulter imagined, and then built, this framework for innovation that we now embrace. Nearly 20 years ago, he understood something many people are just now realizing—that the road to new technologies must be paved with inter-disciplinary, inter-institutional collaboration.

Today, the Coulter Foundation is a critical vehicle to develop those collaborations in biomedical translational research. The Foundation’s work also offers models of best practices to research groups around the world. In fact, the Coulter experience is informing commercialization initiatives in disciplines across Drexel as we speak.

So it’s fitting that we celebrate Wallace Coulter’s life together. And I look forward to Mara sharing some thoughts and memories of him in just a bit.

But first, I want to spend just a few minutes talking to you about Drexel’s vision for innovation, and for the impact innovation can have on an entire metropolitan region, in this case, Greater Philadelphia. Our Coulter Foundation Partnership is critical to our ability to innovate, so in a way, these ideas are the house that Wallace helped build.

The future of high-impact research at Drexel is bound up in a number of cross-disciplinary institutes that we’ve created and continue to create. The goal is to have our efforts guided not on the boundaries of academic fields, but by the challenges we face.

Some of the most successful early examples include our A.J. Drexel Institutes in nanotechnology, plasma technology and autism. Our ExCITe Center, which stands for Expressive and Creative Interaction Technologies, is bridging high-tech research and the creative arts. Now we’re in the process of forming the Institute of Energy and the Environment, because we have considerable expertise on issues of energy and environmental sustainability. And our affiliation with the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia has created a real power in the field of environmental science.

All of these efforts complement the incredible achievements of Banu and her small band of warriors here in Drexel BIOMED. I know you’re all familiar with the great work they do, but it bears mention again that they’re the backbone of our innovation enterprise.

Building on Drexel’s research momentum, we established an initiative called Drexel Ventures this year. It’s designed to support start-ups built around Drexel ideas, foster partnerships with local investors and entrepreneurs and attract more corporate and federal R&D funds to Drexel and the region.

Drexel Ventures provides services to our faculty and students and their partners that include expediting technology licensing, providing R&D infrastructure and offering business development consulting. Drexel Ventures is also managing a new Innovation Fund that will run proof-of-concept competitions, help move faculty and student inventions towards market and provide seed capital to take start-ups to the next stage of commercialization.

This is the moment when our research really becomes a creative force in the world. And one of the biggest influences on our efforts is the Coulter-Drexel Translational Partnership Program.

Drexel Ventures expresses one of the core values that’s taken hold at this University – entrepreneurship. That’s also reflected in the establishment this fall of the Close School of Entrepreneurship.

This is a freestanding school that serves our most venture-oriented students, but also puts entrepreneurship studies and programming at the fingertips of every Drexel student in every discipline.

We want to have a coordinated approach to entrepreneurship education throughout Drexel. And we want that education to complement and enhance outcomes for all of our students. We can do that by developing entrepreneurial thinking in the curriculum, and by creating opportunities for entrepreneurial practice.

We also want to provide students with a range of ways to engage and live entrepreneurship, depending on their personal level of interest and career ambitions. We expect the Close School to develop joint undergraduate degrees with other colleges, aimed specifically at creating, for example, entrepreneurial engineers or graphic designers or information scientists.

We’ve also developed a class we’re calling “Launch It,” which will be open to students who demonstrate fairly well-developed ideas for new businesses. We’ll help them “de-risk” their business models during the course of an entire term, including providing a small amount of seed money.

The Close School will also allow us to ramp up an offering we’ve been slowly building in recent years—the entrepreneurship co-op. In the classic Drexel Co-op, undergrads alternate time in the classroom with six-month periods of full-time, paid employment in their fields. It’s an incredible head start, and one of the main reasons students choose Drexel.

But for those students who already suspect that their career path will include entrepreneurial activity, we want to use co-op to help them on that path. The entrepreneurship co-op will basically subsidize them for six months while they focus on growing their own business. In addition to a paycheck, we’ll offer academic guidance that will help them connect their experience to what they’re learning in the classroom, just as any co-op student is expected to do.

I think the entrepreneurship co-op will make us the leader right out of the gate in recruiting the most outstanding young future entrepreneurs in the nation.

Between Drexel Ventures, the Close School and our translational research programs, we think Drexel has achieved the critical mass to help make Philadelphia a worldwide innovation center, along with our colleagues at Penn, Temple, the University City Science Center and in regional industry.

In fact, I firmly believe that Philadelphia can take a place alongside Cambridge, the Research Triangle and Silicon Valley as a driver of science and technology. And I believe the epicenter will be right here at Drexel, in what we’re calling the Innovation Neighborhood.

Our research expertise and our network of partnerships are complemented wonderfully by a once-in-a-lifetime collection of real estate advantages we’ve acquired. Taken together, those factors are the genesis for the Innovation Neighborhood.

Drexel has assembled approximately 12 acres of undeveloped or underdeveloped property. These parcels seamlessly link our campus to the regional and national highway systems, as well as to America’s third-busiest train station, 30th Street Station. And Amtrak’s been looking at the possibilities around developing the air rights over the Penn Coach yards behind the station, which means that our Innovation Neighborhood would be at the new pulse point of Philadelphia.

We can build an innovation cluster as well located as any in the world. To do this, we’re bringing together Drexel researchers, other universities in the region, national and global research partners, established technology companies and entrepreneurs and every other piece of the technology development and commercialization puzzle.

We’ll work on a series of mixed-use projects built in partnership with private developers, which I believe is the future of major university development. The Innovation Neighborhood can be the sort of project that transforms a city. We see it as a place where people live, learn and work. And its bedrock will be interdisciplinary translational research, tech transfer, and economic development.

I wanted to share this idea with you because for regional, national and global partners, the Innovation Neighborhood will be a great place to put down roots, and to tap into the incredible energy and resources of a great academic and research institution.

I’ve been involved in university planning and development for more than 20 years, and I’ve never seen such potential to consolidate a worldwide community of researchers who are focused on real-world challenges.

So that’s my digression into our plans here at Drexel. Because our potential to achieve these things is based in part on our connection to innovation communities like this, I thought it would be appropriate and hopefully interesting to share it with you.

If nothing else, maybe our plans can reinforce for you that the work you do as researchers, as innovators, and as problem solvers, really can move mountains. It inspires people to think big, and to imagine a better future.

The force for change that’s gathered in this room today is really remarkable. I want to thank all of you for coming to Drexel, and thank you once again for the incredible work you do.

Thank you also to the Wallace H. Coulter Foundation, and to Wallace Coulter himself. A hundred years after his birth, he still stands tall among us. It’s a privilege to gather together and celebrate his legacy.

Have a great afternoon.