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Published November 03, 2011, 05:43 PM

SOUTH DAKOTA: South Dakota research centers providing impact

South Dakota’s higher education research centers are impacting the state by creating jobs and developing spin-off companies.

By: Alan Van Ormer, Prairie Business Magazine

Currently there are 10 Research Centers in operation. Five of the Centers have “graduated” or no longer receive state “Center” funding. The other five Centers are in their third year.

“Businesses partnering with the Research Centers have raised more than $20 million in financing to commercialize research results,” states Mel Ustad, Director of Commercialization for the Governor’s Office of Economic Development.

For example, several researchers from the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Vaccinology at South Dakota State University in Brookings, SD have been instrumental in the founding of two separate start-up companies.

David Francis founded Brookings Biomedical, Inc., a six year old business that has had several substantial research contracts including Teijin Pharma in Tokyo and SpringPoint Project in Minneapolis, MN.

“It has also serviced several small contracts to companies in the United States and has others in the wing,” Francis states. “In addition, it is currently conducting a second USDA SBIR Phase I grant. The focus of the USDA grants is swine vaccine development.”

MedGene is a new company that focuses on research and development, largely using federal SBIR grants as a vehicle. Alan Young founded MedGene.

“As a new company, I do not believe that it has been awarded a grant yet, but individuals associated with that company, have a wealth of SBIR experience and are expected to be successful in this new venture,” Francis says.

In addition, Francis notes that two individuals whose professional careers were largely launched by the 2010 Centers have risen to national or international prominence since being hired. “Ying Fang and Weiping Zhang have exceeded millions of dollars in grants,” Francis states. “Dr. Fang is recognized for her work with the porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome virus. Dr Zhang is a member of an international team supported by the Gates Foundation charged with the development of a vaccine against enterotoxigenic E. coli to be administrated to children in developing companies.”

Another research center, The Center for Bioprocessing Research & Development (CBRD) has initiated 26 industry collaborations with private businesses and large bioenergy companies and has trained 79 graduate and undergraduate students.

Four new faculty have joined the Center over the past two years. In FY11, 55 graduate, 24 undergraduate and 8 researchers have been employed and trained through CBRD.

“South Dakota is a strong agricultural state and home to some of the leading producers of bioethanol in the United States,” states Dr. Lew Christopher, Director of the Center. “The state is uniquely positioned to serve as a natural laboratory providing the opportunity to produce biofuels from a variety of available feedstock – grasses, forestry and agri-waste.”

The Center consists of 120 researchers from nine departments at the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology in Rapid City and South Dakota State University in Brookings. The Center was established in 2006 through the Governor’s 2010 Initiative for Economic Development to bring together the bioprocessing research and development resources together.

The Center is actively involved in and supports Ph.D. and M.S. graduate programs at both universities. The overall mission of the CBRD is to provide entrepreneurs, farmers, and industry in South Dakota with expertise in cutting edge technologies, research facilities, education, training and administrative support. The overall goal of the center is to reduce national dependence on imported fossil fuels and petroleum-based chemicals by developing new technologies that mitigate the environmental impact of greenhouse gas emissions and combat climate change.

“Because of the unique geographical location of the center, local industry by-products, such as agriwaste and logging waste, and energy crops, such as native prairie grasses and switchgrass, play a significant part in providing the feedstock for bio-derived chemicals and fuel research,” Christopher explains. “By employing an integrated biorefinery approach in the development and implementation of renewable energy technologies, this research has the potential for far-reaching impact on the growing bio-economy of the Black Hills, the state of South Dakota, the Midwest and the nation as a whole.”

Overall, over the past five years, Christopher notes that the Center has obtained $13.3 million through 88 awards (with an overall success rate of 33 percent) from state, federal, and industry funding sources. SDPB

Alan Van Ormer - avanormer@prairiebizmag.com