Virginia Tech is enhancing its research environment with an innovative, discovery-to-market approach to industry partnerships, commercializing technology, and supporting start-ups.

The effort began with the formation of LINK, the Center for Industry Partnerships to streamline the way companies engage with Virginia Tech. In its first year, LINK helped secure multimillion-dollar agreements with companies like aerospace giant Boeing and digital currency pioneer Block.one, adding momentum to the university's already strong reputation for forging comprehensive industry partnerships. Examples of such partnerships include Mahindra Group, a worldwide leader in farming equipment, that announced it would open offices in the university’s Corporate Research Center and sponsor research in agricultural robotics.    

Now, a new resource — LAUNCH, The Center for New Ventures — will help turn inventions made by Virginia Tech researchers into applied innovations. LAUNCH will support industry, entrepreneur, and investor outreach and engagement, business planning, and economic development. The goal is to create more success stories like that of DeepSig, a start-up that is developing consumer-use technology invented by researchers at Virginia Tech’s Hume Center for National Security and Technology.

“LINK fully recognizes the importance of advancing industry partnerships, and LAUNCH represents the university’s commitment to our faculty and students to take a more active role in transitioning ideas and discoveries into new enterprises so they can create additional value and impact,” said Theresa Mayer, Virginia Tech’s vice president for research and innovation. “We are increasing our commitment to and focus on technology transfer at the university to streamline the paths to joint research and start-ups.”

Brandy Salmon, who until recently served as executive director of LINK, will oversee both LINK and LAUNCH as associate vice president for innovation and partnerships. Read more about her appointment.

“Research universities like Virginia Tech operate on such a broad scale that there are almost unlimited opportunities for collaboration and innovation,” said Salmon, who previously served as an innovation strategy consultant and led licensing and start-up efforts with Duke University. “But that can also be a challenge if steps aren’t taken to make it easy for potential partners to connect. Given the rapid pace of technology development, premier companies and venture capitalists are looking for universities to bring value in new ways – not only through the research, but also through the structures that support partnership and engagement.”

LAUNCH will enhance Virginia Tech’s emphasis on innovation and entrepreneurship. LAUNCH’s efforts to shape and spin out researchers’ inventions will complement other initiatives, including those within the Apex Center for Entrepreneurs. APEX offers a full spectrum of programs for students while engaging alumni, entrepreneurs, and investors. LINK and LAUNCH are joint ventures of the Office of the Vice President for Research and Innovation and the Advancement Division.

“We made it a strategic priority to improve the way we engage with major companies through LINK and, with LAUNCH, are establishing the right footprint for starting-up new companies within the university ecosystem,” said Charlie Phlegar, vice president for advancement.

A Virginia Tech researcher examines a hockey helmet.
A prominent system for rating and testing helmets was developed at Virginia Tech.

“Universities like Virginia Tech have immense value to offer — not only in the form of industry partnerships, but also in helping translate the ideas, research, and discoveries into start-ups and partnerships that can fuel the economy,” said Ed Baine, senior vice president — distribution, with Dominion Energy. “Partnerships with universities can be challenging at times and they do not always understand the needs and constraints of industry and entrepreneurs. However, Virginia Tech’s discovery-to-market model, and the university’s intentional approach to getting this right is just what we need.”

Stefan Duma directs the Virginia Tech Institute for Critical Technology and Applied Science, serves as the Harry Wyatt Professor of Engineering, and is a renowned expert in impact biomechanics who developed a prominent system for testing and rating sports helmets.

“As the head of a research institute, I’m excited by the potential of LINK and LAUNCH to connect researchers, companies, and investors in order to find solutions to problems and address consumers’ needs,” Duma said. “If we can bring together people who are working on related issues from different areas of expertise and can find external partners as well, we can make much greater impact. LINK and LAUNCH will help us do just that.”