UEDA 2022 Summit
They say “everything is bigger in Texas” and the recent University Economic Development Association (UEDA) annual conference was no exception.
Hosted in San Antonio - the 7th largest city in the country - UEDA brought together hundreds of stakeholders from university, industry, and government to discuss the role of each in the innovation ecosystem.
As Chancellor of the University of Texas System James B. Milliken paraphrased during his remarks, “Nothing important happens without university, industry, and government at the table”. UEDA serves as a great convener to bring that triumverate to the table to share best practice and give its members a toolkit to spur economic development in their respective communities.
The EcoMap team was honored to attend its first UEDA this past week and play a role in the conference as both a speaker and sponsor. As a fairly new startup with university roots, EcoMap felt right at home with the academics and economic developers that made their way to UEDA.
As with any conference, it is impossible to capture the full scope of the sessions, learnings, and conversations that took place over UEDA. But this EcoMap ReCap is our takeaway from the 4 days of university-inspired economic development down in San Antonio.
ARENI Economic Accelerator Day
Kicking off the conference on Sunday was the “ARENI” (pronounced Are-Knee) Economic Accelerator Day.
The American Resilience & Equity Networks Initiative (aka ARENI) took root last summer when UEDA won a grant from the Economic Development Administration (EDA). What is ARENI hoping to accomplish? Well, I’ll let the program description speak for itself.
[ARENI] provides a structure for region-to-region collaboration on resilience and equity issues and EDA’s University Centers through regular convenings, online forums, and resource libraries. Using UEDA’s existing criterion for identifying best practices in higher education economic development, methods will be identified and then evaluated by an Advisory Council on originality, scalability, sustainability, impact, and replicability in other regions. Those methods that favorably meet the criteria will be elevated to present to the appropriate network.
In order to live up to that mission, UEDA convened a superstar lineup of folks involved across a series of federal government agencies, equity-focused non-profits, and HBCUs/MSIs.
The Keynote for that day was delivered by Dr. Rhonda Vonshay Sharpe - the President of the Women’s Institute for Science, Equity and Race (WISER). That acronym certainly fit as Dr. Sharpe shared a ton of wise, data-backed insights on equitable policies that could be implemented that have a focus on the “other DEI” - Development, Economics, and Innovation.
Afterwards, there was a panel of HBCU leaders across historic institutions such as Norfolk State, Alabama A&M, and Stillman College who spoke about the initiatives and efforts they’ve undertaken to ensure economic resilience among their communities. A key theme involved taking advantage of government opportunities such as building up contractor capacity among the institution’s stakeholders and utilizing opportunity zones as an economic catalyst.
Finally, UEDA convened a panel of federal government leaders across some marquee three letter agencies, including the EDA, SBA, DOE, and NSF. My main takeaway from this session? The federal government has never been so focused on building up an equitable innovation ecosystem across the country. To underscore the point, Dr. Thyaga Nandagopal - a division director in the newly created Technology, Innovation, and Partnerships (TIP) Directorate - highlighted the Regional Innovation Engines program which is putting in hundreds of millions of dollars to foster partnerships across industry, academia, government, nonprofits, civil society, and communities of practice. Many attendees in the crowd have applied to the inaugural “Type 1” grant.
EcoMap: Techniques for Mapping Your Entrepreneurial Ecosystem
One of our personal highlights of the conference came early on Day 2 when our Co-Founder/CEO Pava LaPere presented a workshop titled ‘Techniques for Mapping Your Entrepreneurial Ecosystem’ to a packed house.
With a room full of university and economic development practitioners, Pava led a fast-paced, info-filled session which detailed EcoMap’s foundation as a university-based startup seeking to solve its own problem: finding access to the resources it needed in order to succeed.
Over the last 4 years, EcoMap has transformed from a student-led research project to a venture-backed startup. Along the way, we have learned a lot about how to conduct ecosystem mapping exercises across a wide variety of ecosystems - whether they be entrepreneurial, demographic, academic, industrial, or some hybrid.
Why did we propose this specific session for this kind of crowd?
Mapping your institution’s entrepreneurial ecosystem is critical for building a center that’s inclusive and serves the needs of your community.
However, the mapping process can be confusing and resource-intensive. This session was meant to equip attendees with mapping strategies and highlight how good ecosystem maps can make centers more accessible & resource-efficient.
Unfortunately our recording device ran out of memory 3/4ths of the way through the session so … you’ll just have to find Pava and ask her to give you the full workshop in person.
Awards of Excellence
Throughout the conference, UEDA hosted various Awards of Excellence sessions to celebrate the finalists across 5 categories:
- Engaged University
- Diversity, Equity, and Innovation
During these sessions, the finalists would have 12 minutes to pitch their university’s program that led them to be finalists for the awards along with a 5 minute audience Q&A.
Then the power came down to the crowd.
As an audience member for a handful of these sessions, I have to say, it was incredibly tough to distinguish between the various degrees of excellence. All of these programs were clearly finalists for a region. I do have to say I appreciate the incorporation of Ranked-Choice Voting which made it slightly less painful to choose.
At closing Economic Excellence Banquet, UEDA honored the winners of each of these awards and I just wanted to amplify that with another shoutout below. Here are your winners!
- Talent: University of Kansas- Haskell Environmental Research Studies Institute (HERS)
- Place: University of Hawaii Pacific Business Center Program – Together We Can Go Far: Pacific Farmer Organizations as Drivers of Rural Economic Development
- Innovation: Towson University- The StarTUp (special shoutout to our fellow Baltimoreans!)
- Engaged University: Joint School of Nanoscience and Nanoengineering- Joint School’s Institute for Research Technologies [North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University (NC A&T) and the University of North Carolina at Greensboro (UNCG)]
- Diversity, Equity, and Innovation: University of Kansas – Center for Digital Inclusion Evidence-based Technology Education for Women Transitioning from Incarceration
- Judge’s Award: Tech Parks Arizona, University of Arizona Center for Innovation
Quick Shout-Outs + Wrap-Up
With all of the buzz around university-involved entrepreneurial ecosystems and ways to catalyze them, our EcoMap team felt right at home.
Conferences like UEDA offer a ton of value for its attendees to not only learn from how they are operating at their institutions across the country, but to have the intimate conversations that just can’t happen virtually.
To that end, I wanted to quickly highlight some (not all) events/interactions that I will take home with me from San Antonio.
- The incredible hospitality of our host institution UTSA - especially Rod McSherry and Bijo Mathew.
- Craig Buerstatte – Deputy Assistant Secretary for Regional Affairs at the EDA - who set the tone early by coming to the podium in an inflatable dinosaur costume.
- The wonderful opening night “Local Dine-Around” meal I shared with many of the Bowling Green delegation. I now have a new drink to look out for (Vieux Carré)
- Greg Wright - the founder of Spark Towns - for such a creative and engaging session on energizing places to activate people.
- Cameron Cushman - VP of Innovation Ecosystems, UNT Health Science Center at Fort Worth - for delivering a keynote that combine two of my favorite things: eating & ecosystems
- The entire UEDA board and staff members for such a smoothly-run conference. I know that level of logistic planning is not easy
Can’t wait to see new and familiar faces next year at the 2023 UEDA Summit hosted by the University of Utah in Salt Lake City!
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