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It may be an understatement to suggest that new University of South Florida (USF) President Steven Currall is well-prepared to assume a co-chair role with the Florida High Tech Corridor Council. After all, he literally wrote the book on the university, business and government collaboration in high-tech economic development.

As lead author of Organized Innovation: A Blueprint for Renewing America’s Prosperity, Dr. Currall details the ideal conditions for public/private collaboration on technology commercialization, conditions he immediately recognized in The Corridor.

“One of the things that intrigued me about USF was its status as a comprehensive research university in the heart of a mature and promising innovation ecosystem,” said Currall. “I’ve become a student of such ecosystems, where close collaboration between universities, business and government drive innovation. I’m hoping to deepen this ecosystem that involves USF as an anchor academic institution.”

Deepening USF’s partnerships throughout the region is a top priority for Currall as he begins his tenure as USF’s seventh president. Upon assuming the office, he immediately began a listening tour across the university campuses and region that he expects to last several months. As he put it, his No. 1 goal is to “get out of the office” to meet with students, faculty, staff and alumni, as well as local and regional business, nonprofit, community and government leaders.

That partnership focus is a common refrain in Currall’s history at leading institutions of higher learning. He founded the Rice Alliance for Technology and Entrepreneurship that assisted in the launch of more than 160 tech startups, and later was the founding director of UCL Advances, an entrepreneurship center at University College London. Through various roles at the University of Chicago, the University of California, Davis, and Southern Methodist University, he partnered with regional community leaders, cultivated external relationships and collaborated on strategic planning initiatives that generated millions of dollars in research funding.

He has long recognized university campuses as “neutral meeting grounds” for students, faculty, entrepreneurs and investors, adding “it has always impressed me how willing people with no natural affiliation with their local university still come to that university as a place for the exchange of ideas.”

USF and its regional partnerships are a prime example, and Currall’s task now is to build on the achievements of former President Judy Genshaft and her team.

“We have a great opportunity to capitalize and build on the architecture of academic excellence at USF,” said Currall. “The structure rests on four pillars – undergraduates and their experience, faculty research and creative impact, graduate student quality and experience, and regional partnerships such as The Corridor.

“Our mission is to become a Top 25 Public University, and The Corridor can play a very important role,” Currall added. “The Corridor is almost a mega city, the kind of region that attracts people from all over the country and world as a ‘human capital magnet.’ At the center of that are universities like USF, which do more to attract human capital than any other kind of institution. Every year, we’re bringing in a diverse audience of 6,000+ students, the vast majority of whom remain here to begin their careers and build on our mature business sector.”

Looking more specifically at high-tech businesses, Currall lists a number of ways in which USF will play a leading role, starting with new research discoveries and creation of new technologies. USF led the state of Florida and was No. 16 globally in securing patents in 2018, and the three Corridor universities together earned more than any other globally recognized centers of innovation.

Beyond patent creation, the university plays a critical workforce supply role. And as part of that, Currall is focused on the university’s partnerships that not only create jobs, but also create companies.

In addition to the well-developed research and innovation unit at USF, Currall also sees great advantages in the university’s comprehensive approach to both technical and creative fields. A fan of the book The Fuzzy and The Techie, which captures the increasing importance of well-rounded liberal arts education, he believes the convergence of digital technology and arts/humanities education is one way in which USF can offer unique value to tech companies looking at the region as a place to do business.

“Florida feels like a place for hopes and dreams and new ideas; it is strengthening and emerging, and there’s a parallel in my mind between the trajectory of the state and that of USF,” said Currall. “For technology businesses, Florida has a lot to offer, from a growing population and vibrant economy to a great quality of life. Perhaps most importantly, state government is an asset here that takes a progressive look at economic development and job creation.”

As a noted expert in public/private collaboration in economic development, those are strong words. And they bode well not only for the future of USF, but also the continued growth of The Corridor.

A regional economic development initiative of: