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The Future's Innovative Entrepreneurs
Mike Cassidy C. Michael Cassidy
President and CEO
Georgia Research Alliance
Atlanta, GA

The future's most successful entrepreneurs will most likely be different than those today. They may be wearing lab coats rather than sport coats, and safety glasses rather than contact lenses. As comfortable in ivory towers as office towers, they may be using microscopes more than Microsoft.

In Georgia this kind of future is well underway. The Georgia Research Alliance Eminent Scholars™ program has already attracted 51 world-class scientists doing groundbreaking research and now is focused on bringing research results into the commercial marketplace. Scholars, research, innovation and commercialization are creating a potent force in the global competition for innovation and high-tech, high-wage jobs.

Many successful research scientists have shown that they can be successful entrepreneurs. Leaders in many states, recognizing this potential, are providing new resources for research as a way to strengthen economic development. California leaders and voters recently saw this opportunity and authorized spending $3 billion on stem cell research, but Georgia made the connection in 1990, launching the Georgia Research Alliance (GRA). This public-private partnership helps harness the collaborative power of the state's six research universities to create, improve and grow science- and technology-based companies.

In the past 15 years, the GRA has invested $400 million to recruit top researchers in advanced communications, computing and the biosciences. Besides attracting top scientific talent, it has produced new and improved laboratories that have brought the flow of research into companies in the form of marketable products and services.

Research funding follows scholarly talent and the increase in research funding has been dramatic. GRA's investment has returned more than $2 billion in federal and private funding. But more significantly, the GRA Eminent Scholars™ researchers and their colleagues attracted to Georgia have led to the creation of more than 4,000 high-paying jobs and 125 new companies.

To nurture the growth and success of young companies, the GRA collaborates with the state's research universities, helping provide an infrastructure of support. New business "incubators" link fledgling companies with management talent, funding sources and industry contacts - all before they leave academia behind. Two of the many new companies have gone on to be publicly traded: AtheroGenics, a pharmaceutical company focused on novel drugs for the treatment of chronic inflammatory diseases, and Inhibitex, a clinical stage, biopharmaceutical company focused on novel "first-in-field" antibody-based products to prevent and treat serious bacterial and fungal infections.

Advancing the progress of scholars and research institutions as part of strategic economic development has also helped the state's existing companies. Numerous firms in Georgia's private sector, from poultry producers to medical manufacturers, accessing these valuable resources, have become more competitive, keeping and adding new jobs in Georgia.

Leading firms nationwide -- Google, Hewlett-Packard and Gillette among them -- trace their origins to research universities. Just as these firms took time to grow, so Georgia has several jewels poised for growth, and the best is yet to come. Research and innovation is the key to the 21st century economy, and the company with the best innovators wins.

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