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Conference touts benefits of Critical Technologies
July 27, 1998

"We are in a sea filled with professors and graduate students," said David Reisner, "and a lot of times when we do proposals we stick our pole out of the boat and see what we can catch."

Reisner, CEO and President of Inframat, a company that develops coating materials, was speaking at a conference in Hartford at the end of last month. He was describing his company's partnership with the University of Connecticut in the Critical Technologies Research Program.

"We hardly even consider submitting a (grant) proposal without having at least one UConn professor attached in some way," Reisner said.

Nearly 200 people attended the all-day conference. State officials, industry specialists and professors told of their experiences with the program, established by the state Legislature five years ago to promote economic development in Connecticut through partnerships between academia, industry and government. The program brings businesses and university scientists together to create new technologies and products.

"We are developing strong industry/university interactions," said Leslie Cutler, chancellor and provost for health affairs. Already, 59 Connecticut companies and 107 from out of state have joined in partnership with the University. Many call it a "win-win situation."

"We have had tremendous amounts of success with this collaboration," said Salvadore Fernandez, president of Ciencia Inc., a photonics company in East Hartford. Having access to faculty members and students allows a cross-fertilization of ideas, he said.

"Our broad activities require a lot of different skills, and although we like to think of ourselves as super-diverse renaissance men and women, we are not quite there and we need a little bit of help," Fernandez said.

Almost $15 million has been allocated by the Legislature in the last three years for the program.

"I am sure people are going to expect immediate job creation," Fernandez said. "I think we have to be cautious and a little careful not to place too much attention on the short-term creation of jobs because this process takes a long time, so we need to have stable funding for a significant period of time before jobs can be created."

Douglas George, of E-Lite Technologies in Stratford, a lighting company, pointed out that through the partnership, a small company can find assistance with research and development. "By working with a University you can establish a pool of expertise, which is important for a small company like ours, since we cross into many disciplines," he said.

Fernandez also noted that a partnership can't be successful if it doesn't work for both sides. "I would like to assume that our collaboration would provide the University with funding for research," he said, "and it provides students access to business."

Robert Smith, vice provost for research and graduate education at UConn, spoke of the benefits to the University. He said one of the incentives for partnership that the University wanted to capitalize on through the Critical Technology Program is "to provide students a valuable program where they can gain real world experience which will enhance their competitiveness in the job market."

During the conference, Thomas Chen, director of the biotechnology center, was presented with the Xerox of the Northeast Award for his collaboration with industry to use technology and innovation to help business. U.S. Sen. Christopher Dodd also made an appearance, describing proposed legislation to provide a tax credit for businesses that support technological research at universities. The proposal would cover 40 percent of the expenses incurred by a company that teams with a college on technology-based educational activities, up to $100,000.

Luis Mocete