Bulldog Market

CAES' research helps put UGA at No. 1 for marketable products

Education is certainly the foundation of any university, but innovation has become the hallmark of leading research universities in the U.S. The University of Georgia ranks among the top-five universities in the nation for licenses and innovations, and last year alone, 50 new products created by UGA faculty, staff or students entered the marketplace and nine new companies were launched. From peanuts and blueberries to hydrangeas and turfgrasses, a whopping 70% of the university’s licensing revenue comes in from products developed within the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences. CAES alumnus Brent Marable (BSA – Horticulture, ’96; MAL – Agricultural Leadership, ’13) serves as the assistant director of plant licensing for Innovation Gateway, which was created by the UGA Office of Research to streamline the licensing of and startup company creation for UGA inventions. Thus far, more than 725 products have been introduced into the marketplace and more than 175 companies have been launched.

“We are UGA’s technology transfer office. We handle all intellectual property that leads to a patent or other type of agreement,” said Marable. “Our role is to open the doorway from the researcher to the industry. We connect UGA researchers with companies and with other institutions who may want to partner with them.”

UGA is ranked No. 1 out of 193 institutions for products entering the market, according to a survey released by the Association of University Technology Managers, a nonprofit organization that tracks technology transfer among universities, colleges and other research institutions. Since 2015, 192 new products have gone to market, more than 25 new start-up companies have sprung up and 300 new jobs were created. And the good news for the Peach State is that three out of four new start-up companies from UGA decide to locate in Georgia.

“From the 1930s into the early 1980s, some of the early crops developed by UGA were just being made publicly available,” Marable said. “In 1978, the University of Georgia Research Foundation was incorporated and a system was put into place for all products and technologies developed at UGA, including crops, to be protected. Revenues generated were to be reinvested back into research at the university. Last year, CAES products generated $7.7 million for the university.”

Peanut varieties are the highest-earning products created by CAES faculty, followed by turfgrass, blueberries, ornamentals, small grains, pecans, and forage and range crops. Peanuts are a $2 billion industry in Georgia and more than 90% of the peanuts grown in Georgia are varieties bred at UGA.

Turfgrasses bred by CAES researchers, particularly warm-season grasses, have been grown at one time or another on every continent except Antarctica. ‘TifTuf’® bermudagrass, the newest release from CAES scientists Wayne Hanna and Brian Schwartz, is a high-quality drought- and wear-tolerant turf that was licensed to Georgia-based New Concept Turf.

Since 2001, CAES Professor and blueberry breeder Scott NeSmith (BSA – Agronomy, ’83; MS – Agronomy, ’86) has released and patented 16 new commercial blueberry varieties and five ornamental blueberry varieties. Georgia has the highest number of acres of blueberry production in the U.S. and blueberries are now the No. 1 fruit crop in Georgia.

Among the many ornamental releases are hydrangea cultivars that CAES Emeritus Professor of Horticulture Michael Dirr bred to bloom multiple times throughout the growing season. The ‘Endless Summer’® hydrangea series is the leading reblooming hydrangea cultivar and germplasm in the U.S. and around the world.

Soybean and small grains varieties also bring in royalties. Of those, more than 45 wheat, barley and other small grain cultivars were bred by retired CAES professor Jerry Johnson (BSA – Agronomy, ’70). They were created to be high-yielding and to help Southeastern U.S. farmers fight leaf rust, powdery mildew, Hessian fly and other pests.

CAES horticulture Professor Marc van Iersel and Erico Mattos (PhD – Crop and Soil Sciences, ‘13) co-founded Candidus, a startup company that develops cost-effective lighting strategies for the greenhouse industry.

From research and discovery to publication and licensing, products created at UGA support UGA researchers. “Patents, trademarks, copyrights and licenses can lead to jobs as well as royalties that fund future research,” Marable said.

The legwork, and a lot of paperwork, that goes into preparing new products and companies for the marketplace is done by Innovation Gateway, the university’s research commercialization office.

“Researchers come up with an invention. If it is novel and has commercial potential and marketability, we file for a patent application,” said Shelley Fincher, plant licensing manager for Innovation Gateway.

Plant cultivars come to Innovation Gateway “ready to go,” she said. Start-up companies are necessary when more steps are needed to create a full product.

“We market inventions to companies and industries to get them into the marketplace,” she said. “Usually the researcher is the one who has the best relationship with the company. They are, after all, the expert in the field, but we are always the go-between to make sure there is no conflict of interest.”

By Sharon Dowdy Cruse

Brian Schwartz and Wayne Hanna examine turf plots
CAES scientists Brian Schwartz (left) and Wayne Hanna examine turf plots on the UGA Tifton campus. TifTuf®, a drought-tolerant bermudagrass, is their latest release. The grass was bred as one of 27,700 experimental bermudagrass genotypes. (Photo by Corey Nolan)

Using Creative License

In 2018, UGA’s new products to market included an eco-friendly charcoal lighter; soil remediation products; and new peanut, pecan, soybean, wheat, citrus and ornamental plant varieties, said Derek Eberhart (BSA – Poultry Science, ‘86; MS – Poultry Genetics, ‘91), associate vice president for research and executive director of Innovation Gateway, UGA’s research commercialization office.

The university pours much of the income it derives from licensing new technologies to industry back into the research enterprise through initiatives such as the Cultivar Development Research Program, administered by Innovation Gateway. Since 1997, this program has provided more than $21 million in internal grant funding to UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences plant breeders, resulting in the generation of more than 300 novel plant cultivars.

This commercialization activity benefits from the expanding research enterprise at UGA. Over the past five years, the university has achieved a 29% increase in overall research and development expenditures. As a result, UGA has risen to No. 53 in the National Science Foundation’s latest R&D rankings of universities, with $455 million in expenditures in fiscal year 2017.

“We’re only just starting to realize UGA’s potential to catalyze the most creative and entrepreneurial ambitions of our amazing faculty and students,” said David Lee, vice president for research. “It takes a complex ecosystem to support the multiple pathways to successful innovation, entrepreneurship and commercialization, whether through the licensing of new inventions to industry or helping faculty and students to start their own companies.”

As of 2019, more than 175 startup companies have been created out of UGA research, resulting in more than 1,300 jobs and an estimated annual economic impact of more than $128 million.

By Sharon Dowdy Cruse

Points of Pride

CAES has produced more plant varieties than any other U.S. university.