Last night I stopped by the Regional Growth Partnership's 'Tech Connect' program, which they sponsored in conjunction with the Toledo Area Chamber of Commerce and the University of Toledo.
Billed as "enhancing opportunities for local entrepreneurial businesses," Tech Connect is a quarterly event to provide entrepreneurs and small technology companies an opportunity to network and interact with each other, investors, and the business and academic communities. Their first event had about 40 participants. Last night, there were about 150.
This event is an on-going component of the RGP's Launch program, which provides, at no cost, comprehensive business assistance services to accelerate tech-based business growth.
Dr. Lloyd Jacobs, President of the University of Toledo, was the featured speaker, explaining how UT's Science and Technology Corridor is helping to grow tech businesses in the region. Interestingly, UT has added a second business incubator on their Health Sciences Campus and they hope they'll need another one in the future as they continue to assist in the commercialization of research.
Dr. Jacobs explained his vision, shared by the UT Board of Trustees, for how a university should be a part of the community. He even included a history lesson about how universities used to be separate from their cities, building walls and moats around their campuses and acting as a 'city within a city' with their own laws and jurisdictions.
But that is not how Dr. Jacobs sees UT, and the Science and Technology Corridor, while a physical connection between the three campuses, is also a 'spiritual' connection between researchers, entrepreneurs, banks, economic development professionals, jobs and the community as a whole.
Dr. Jacobs, always an entertaining speaker, expressed the University's continuing support for programs like Tech Connect, Launch and Rocket Ventures. And if you're not familiar with Rocket Ventures, you should be.
Rocket Ventures is the name of the corporation that administers the RGP's venture capital fund, consisting of a $15 million state grant from the Ohio Department of Development and matched by $7.5 million of private sector monies. This pre-seed, early-stage venture fund provides - for the first time in Northwest Ohio - the capital and management services necessary to help entrepreneurs, researchers and start-up companies with the opportunity to commercialize their technology.
It was encouraging to see so many people participating in this event, especially companies like First Solar and Xunlight who were featured in a recent Newsweek article. While there were staff from several city and county economic development departments, the evening was driven and led by the private sector, in conjunction with banks and universities - the way successful economic development should be.