IGem's a Catalyst to Build Idaho's Knowledge Economy
Written by Jeffery Sayer-Director, Idaho Department of Commerce
House Bill 546 - the Idaho Global Entrepreneurial Mission (iGem) and the most significant public policy enhancement for Idaho's technology industry in decades - passed the House and Senate decisively. Its approval brings us one step closer to passing legislation that will pave the way to building a first-tier knowledge economy for our state.
IGem is essentially a platform to facilitate and accelerate tech transfer from Idaho's world-class research facilities. The vision of the program is to leverage private-industry guidance and Idaho's research universities to facilitate the commercialization of ideas.
Idaho's private sector has been clamoring for a model like iGem for years. Private stakeholders recognize iGem as an opportunity to leverage private-sector investment in a way that has never before been done in Idaho. What makes this program so remarkable is how it's created with an unprecedented level of collaboration between the public and private sectors. Some of iGem's supporters include the State Board of Education, the Idaho Association of Commerce and Industry, the Idaho Technology Council, the Idaho National Laboratory and Idaho's three research universities.
IGem will strategically invest private and public resources to create new businesses and reinforce Idaho's core competencies. The governor has recommended three main funding components for iGem: $2 million for new research, $2 million annually for the Center for Advanced Energy Studies and $1 million for innovation grants to help expand Idaho businesses. Stewardship of these funds will be overseen by transforming the existing Idaho Innovation Council into the iGem Council, whose members will be balanced between industry and government.
The Department of Commerce will play a critical part in supporting iGem. In keeping with our proven track record in managing grant programs to stimulate economic development, we will monitor return on investment and implement best practices such as:
- Define and measure economic development objectives for iGem projects.
- Develop and streamline methods to encourage investment from the private sector.
- Develop best practices for tech transfer and recommend structures that implement these practices in the universities.
- Enhance tech transfer and commercialization to create high-quality jobs in the private sector.
- Outline matching requirements for grant recipients.
- Report impact and outcomes annually to the governor, the Legislature's budget-setting Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee, and the House and Senate Commerce and Human Resources committees.
The Department of Commerce and/or the State Board of Education also will be able to allocate funds to the universities to pursue iGem-focused projects. This will enable our researchers to concentrate on projects with the greatest potential for economic impact.
By bringing research and industry together, the iGem program will act as a catalyst to spur innovation and economic development in Idaho. Although this is a long-term investment, it will set the foundation to create a diversified, healthy and robust technology ecosystem.