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At College Park, an all-encompassing focus on entrepreneurship

Loh wants students to have the ability to create their own livelihoods

May 06, 2014|By Carrie Wells, The Baltimore Sun

"The focus on innovation is becoming a dominant theme in higher education," said University System of Maryland Chancellor William E. Kirwan. "We are coming to understand as a country that our niche, our contribution to the global economy is in the general area of innovation and entrepreneurship, and that doesn't mean just in STEM [science, technology, engineering and math] disciplines."

The Maryland General Assembly recently approved legislation to establish areas around universities where businesses and nonprofits can be eligible for tax breaks, called the Regional Institution Strategic Enterprise Zone Program. The idea is to help the universities lure startup firms near their campuses.

A two-year-old agreement between the University of Maryland's College Park and Baltimore campuses called MPower Maryland also has brought a focus on innovation and entrepreneurship.

Before the agreement, only one professor had a joint appointment at the two institutions, according to Loh. Now they have launched a joint school of public health, a center to bring together College Park engineers and Baltimore health scientists, and an office to guide professors through the patent and licensing process.

A year into the MPower agreement, a UMB neurosurgeon and a College Park engineer developed a prototype of a minuscule robot that can crawl into a tricky part of the human brain and remove tumors. Given the success of the collaboration, Loh said, it was "unimaginable" that College Park and Baltimore campus researchers rarely did so in the past.

The two campuses also recently began a program to invest up to $500,000 through next year in startup companies that license university patents or other intellectual property.

In addition, Loh is pushing for more "living and learning" programs that are partially sponsored by outside firms or that work in tandem with government agencies. For example, Northrop Grumman Corp. gave $1.1 million to the university last fall to help launch a cybersecurity program for undergraduates, with the defense firm promising to work closely with the students.

"I know Northrop Grumman is just salivating to hire them," Loh said.

For entrepreneurship success stories, Loh points not only to Plank, the CEO of Under Armour, but to people like Ben Simon. As a student in 2011, Simon founded a nonprofit to collect uneaten food in dining halls to distribute at homeless shelters. The Food Recovery Network is now in 53 colleges in 20 states and the District of Columbia, and the organization now headed by Simon says its chapters have recovered more than 250,000 pounds of food to distribute to the needy.

The university hosts more than a dozen competitions and events annually to encourage students and faculty to develop new businesses or inventions in areas like clean energy, health care and social welfare.

Loh has even dropped the university's 2009 slogan, "Unstoppable Starts Here." Instead, the university is now a place for "Fearless Ideas," a play on the popular "Fear the Turtle" slogan that captured the university's athletics prowess in the early 2000s.

Partnerships, with other institutions, including the Universities at Shady Grove in Montgomery County, private business, the military and federal agencies, are also part of Loh's innovation and entrepreneurship agenda. The proximity to Fort Meade, Aberdeen Proving Ground and federal agencies in the Washington area provides a unique opportunity, he said.

"The University of Maryland would not be what it is if not for its location," Loh said.

cwells@baltsun.com

twitter.com/cwellssun

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