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State awards $6.5 million to Ohio University
Regional technology-based entrepreneurs to receive greater support and assistance

ATHENS, Ohio (March 28, 2007) -- To supplement its November award of $3.5 million, the state of Ohio today has awarded $6.5 million to Ohio University's Voinovich Center for Leadership and Public Affairs and their collaborators for the Southeast Ohio Entrepreneurial Signature Program (ESP) to drive regional economic development by supporting local entrepreneurs. 

ESP is a Third Frontier Program initiative designed to support entrepreneurs and technology-based businesses by offering operational assistance and access to early-stage capital. The goal is to significantly increase the technology-based entrepreneurial commercialization outcomes throughout 19 counties of southeast Ohio. Third Frontier programs support technology-based business growth throughout the state.

"The second phase of this award is a tremendous investment in the economic future of this region. It creates a strong partnership between Ohio University, OSU South Centers, private angel fund investors and others," Director of the Voinovich Center Mark Weinberg said.

Program collaborators within Ohio University include the Voinovich Center for Leadership and Public Affairs – lead applicant for the grant, Edison Biotechnology Institute (EBI) and the Innovation Center. External collaborators are Adena Ventures, Ohio State University South Centers and the East Central Ohio Technology Angel Fund (ECOTAF). The partners also will be working with a number of others throughout the region to implement the program.

"The program builds on a long history of working with public and private partners to improve the economy of Appalachia Ohio," Ohio University President J. Roderick McDavis said.

The majority of the resources will help regional companies move through the first three phases of the Ohio Department of Development's technology commercialization process – a five stage framework that includes imagining, incubating, demonstrating, market entry and growth and sustainability.

Providing operational assistance

The Voinovich Center's Business Development Group (AREG) will lead the operational assistance effort in partnership with EBI and OSU South Centers. The funding will enable these businesses to receive services tailored to their specific needs.

EBI will direct operational assistance primarily for companies developing therapeutics for endocrine disorders like obesity, diabetes and some forms of cancer.

"This grant will enable EBI to expand its reach and provide higher level business assistance to life science companies throughout the region," Director of EBI David Wight said. "With this funding we will be able to build on our longstanding commitment to foster economic development in southeastern Ohio."

Six existing companies have been created through licensing of EBI "platform" technology. As of the spring of 2006, EBI faculty generated one international patent, 26 U.S. patents, 28 U.S. patent pending applications and 13 active invention disclosures.

"This grant allows Ohio University to expand upon the strong partnerships within the Regional Campus system," Weinberg said. "This award will also allow Ohio University to capitalize on its expertise in life sciences as well as digital technology and will provide learning and service opportunities for students and faculty in business, engineering and sciences."

The award also will support the regional leadership of OSU South Centers in "agbioscience" commercialization that integrates agricultural innovations into the expansive natural resource infrastructure of the region. While this effort will focus on the complete supply chain of four primary areas -- the wood industry, advanced foods, biofeedstock development and environmental sciences -- all agricultural-related innovations will be supported.

"This new funding will allow us to increase the breadth and depth of our ongoing OSU South Centers Business Development Network. It makes flexible funds available to entrepreneurs to help accelerate the commercialization process," Director of OSU South Centers Tom Worley said.

Identifying and supporting new businesses

Part of the state funds will support the "deal flow network" -- outreach and educational efforts designed to identify and provide assistance to new businesses in the region. When combined with matching funding, the grant will fund activities that include providing entrepreneurial training, creating awareness and educational opportunities and identifying companies that would benefit from ESP services. Those activities will be cosponsored by regional implementation partners and Local Development Districts.

The grant also will help establish and support the ECOTAF, a professionally managed pre-seed fund that will invest in 10 – 15 regional technology-based companies over four years. ECOTAF will target early-stage companies seeking funding to complete a product or to generate their first customers.

In November the state of Ohio awarded $3.5 million to the Voinovich Center for Leadership and Public Affairs and venture capital firm Adena Ventures to invest in new technology businesses in the 19 counties of Southeast Ohio. That initial award set up a preseed fund and business assistance for digital technology companies. Those funds provide a solid foundation for these additional investments from the state that will develop angel funds and expand the operational assistance program for technology companies.

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Media Contact: Media Relations Coordinator Jessica Stark,740-597-2938 or starkj@ohio.edu

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