A Growing eMerge Perspective

By Robert C. Jones, Jr.

A Growing eMerge Perspective

By Robert C. Jones, Jr.
B2B tech conference demonstrated UM’s vast potential as the core institution of a new innovation ecosystem.

The third eMerge Americas technology conference was only a few hours into its first day at the Miami Beach Convention Center, when Norma Sue Kenyon, the University of Miami’s vice provost for innovation, ran into an old colleague who used to work at UM’s Diabetes Research Institute and is now employed by a company that manufactures sensors for artificial knee replacements.

Kenyon immediately thought of the UM eMerge booth space where the Department of Physical Therapy and Frost School of Music were demonstrating a special sensor that uses music to help amputees with prosthetic legs walk better. Kenyon urged her former associate to visit the booth.

“It’s those kinds of connections in one place that help people find others who might be interested in what you’re doing and vice versa,” Kenyon said of the two-day conference that connected innovators and investors through summits and workshops.

At this year's eMerge conference, the UM School of Education and Human Development displayed robots used to help teach robotics and computer science to elementary school students. Mouse over or tap the photo to interact with more text and video.

For the third year in a row, UM had a significant presence at the event, showcasing its research and innovation plans for the future through exhibits and lectures.

Now, a month after the B2B tech conference was held, the University has already started making plans—a content, implementation, and logistics team was set to meet—for next year’s event, which will be held June 12-13.

While the exact specifics of its booth space and which researchers will speak have yet to be determined, one thing is almost certain: UM will continue to play a key role at eMerge, as its participation in the conference “aligns with President Frenk’s hemispheric initiative, particularly in terms of innovation,” said Thomas J. LeBlanc, UM’s executive vice president and provost.

LeBlanc was referring to one of the key objectives outlined by UM President Julio Frenk in his inauguration address last January for the institution to become “the Hemispheric University,” given its geographic location to the Americas.

With the launch of UM’s new Miami Institute for the Americas and the recent signing of an agreement between the University’s Center for Computational Science and the Yucatan State Government to partner on research, innovation, and technology projects, part of that strategy is already well underway.

During Frenk’s talk at last month’s eMerge, he outlined other areas to reach that aspiration, chief among them, creating a Hemispheric Innovation and Technology initiative and Hemispheric University Consortium that would unite top thinkers, designers, and resources at UM with counterparts throughout the hemisphere. Key players in the initiative would work together to build and sustain an “innovation ecosystem” where basic research progresses into the testing, development, and launch of innovations that generate funding to “restart the engine of basic research.”

President Frenk also noted that the Cambridge Innovation Center, which has helped more than 1,200 startup businesses take flight, is a new tenant at the University of Miami’s Life Science and Technology Park.

College of Engineering Dean Jean-Pierre Bardet, who chaired the committee that selected which UM research projects would be highlighted at eMerge Americas, is excited about the potential of an innovation ecosystem.

“Engineers are naturally key in that process,” he said. “The core of many inventions comes from engineers, but we’re not working in silos. We have to work with other people, whether it’s lawyers when it comes to protecting intellectual property or business people for licensing.”

Kenyon, who in her role as vice provost for innovation serves as the primary liaison for faculty and program staff to investigate opportunities for disclosure, patent protection, funding, and commercialization of their scientific work, sees UM as already well positioned to serve as the academic institution at the core of the “innovation ecosystem” Frenk spoke of.

“UM as an academic institution can help bring people together and generate a lot of the ideas that fuel innovation and technology development, but also provide processes and ways to help people from the Americas,” explained Kenyon, who is also the Martin Kleiman Professor of Surgery, Microbiology and Immunology, and Biomedical Engineering.

During eMerge Americas, she met with an entrepreneur from Mexico, “and we talked about the fact that some of the types of processes and infrastructure that we have here in South Florida don’t exist in the Americas,” said Kenyon. “It would be ideal if some of these things that we do for our inward facing faculty could be used to help convince investors and other business people in the area to support companies in Latin America as well.”

The office Kenyon spearheads, U Innovation, which consists of the Wallace H. Coulter Center for Translational Research and the Office of Technology Transfer, will play a key role in that innovation ecosystem.

She noted that nearly 50 percent of the startups that formed since U Innovation began in 2012 were supported by the Coulter Center, which is focused on turning translational research in biomedical science and engineering into products by commercializing research projects that address an unmet clinical need and have market potential.

“UM,” said Kenyon, “really is emerging as a player in innovation.”