Donovan and Brian Herman of the University of Minnesota
University of Minnesota
must be a key player in the effort to improve state competitiveness
Civic CaucusFocus on Competitiveness
Present John Adams,
Dave Broden (vice chair), Janis Clay, Pat Davies, Maura Donovan, Paul
Gilje (coordinator), Brian Herman, Randy Johnson, Sallie Kemper, Dan
Loritz (chair), Paul Ostrow, Dana Schroeder, Clarence Shallbetter.
By phone: Amir Gharbi.
Summary Having a
strong research university is a key component of bringing talent to a
region, according to Brian Herman of the University of Minnesota (U of
M). He says the University is "open for business" and believes the U
of M should work in a proactive way with both nonprofit and business
partners in the area of economic development.
The University's Maura
Donovan says the private sector wants some return on its investments
in partnerships with the U of M. She says that, in addition to
partnering with business, the University is very interested in
partnering with government agencies and economic development
organizations around the state and the region.
Herman adds that the University is trying to find some commonality of
vision, approach and thought on economic development among different
groups working in that field.
Herman notes that the U
of M is working with its industry partners to understand the kind of
workforce they need in the future and to incorporate that into how it
teaches its students. Donovan points out that the University, often
considered to be focused on Minnesota, is also global in its abilities
and partnerships. She describes an increasing focus at the U of M on
translational research, which spans different disciplines and helps
make basic science useful for improving human health and wellbeing.
Issues to discuss Prior to the
discussion with Maura Donovan and Brian Herman, they were asked to be
ready to discuss the following issues: the University of Minnesota's
(U of M) role in the economic competitiveness of Minnesota and the
Twin Cities metropolitan area; the role of postsecondary education in
the competitiveness of their regions, given the close relationship of
the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities (MnSCU) institutions
with their regions; what the core things are that the U of M should do
to make the economy stronger, given the changing nature of the state's
economy and population; the contribution of the U of M to the state's
economy now and in the past; dealing with the knowledge gap at the U
of M about how urban regional economies work; how the U of M is
aligning itself with industry to be anticipatory, rather than
reactive; how the U of M can be more approachable by citizens; whether
there is a leadership role for the U of M on these issues; any
examples from around the country of universities with ideal methods of
fostering the economic competitiveness of their regions; any
innovative companies in the state looking for partnerships with the U
executive director of the University of Minnesota's Office of
University Economic Development. She is responsible for strategic
direction and leadership of university-wide economic development
activities, including promoting public/private partnerships and
external engagement and working with statewide and regional economic
Donovan spent more than
20 years at Medtronic and has extensive leadership experience in the
medical device and biotechnology industries.
Most recently, Donovan served as chief technology officer for the
Decade of Discovery, a joint initiative of the U of M and the Mayo
Clinic. She was
responsible for implementing a public/private partnership to advance
diabetes and obesity research at the two institutions.
She also served as interim executive director of the Medical Device
Innovation Consortium, was a past member of the LifeScience Alley
board of directors and is currently a trustee of Macalester College.
Donovan was a
postdoctoral fellow in biochemistry at the University
of Minnesota, holds a Ph.D. in pharmacology from the University of
Washington and a B.A. in chemistry and Russian from Macalester
Brian Herman was appointed vice
president for research at the University
on Jan. 1, 2013. He has primary responsibility for the overall
vitality of the university-wide research environment, including
supporting evolution of new research, maintaining a competitive
infrastructure, developing and managing campus-wide research policies,
and overseeing administrative management of all sponsored research
Prior to coming to the U
of M, Herman served as vice president for research at the University
of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio
and earlier as professor and chair of the Department of Cellular and
Structural Biology at that center. Prior to those positions, he was a
faculty member at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
School of Medicine.
Herman received his
undergraduate degree in biology from AdelphiUniversity
in Garden City, New Jersey. He received his doctorate from the
University of Connecticut Health Science Center and undertook
postgraduate training at HarvardMedicalSchool.
Having a strong research university is a key component of bringing
talent to a region.
Brian Herman said he has experience working at research universities
including work on economic development issues before coming to the
University of Minnesota (U of M). "I clearly saw in Texas and in the
Research Triangle how having a strong research university is a key
component of bringing talent to a region," he said.Austin,
Tex., and Chapel
Hill, N.C., he said, are both culturally rich and diverse and have
good school systems, things that attract highly talented people.
"I spent a lot of time
traveling the world on behalf of the state of Texas and the cities of
Austin and San Antonio," Herman said, "convincing people that coming
is a good thing and that there is a lot of opportunity in Texas
to build a business and the economy."
He also worked on regional development strategies that partner the
major cities in Texas with the University of Texas.
Herman said he worked on
issues in the nonprofit world, as well.
"We had university expertise that we could bring to problems like
public health, preschool or K-12 education, the achievement gap,
workforce issues and social policies in the community, which created
greater partnerships in the community," he said.
"It led to more progress on some very challenging issues that many
The U of M should
work in a proactive way with its community, both nonprofit and
business and industry partners, in economic development.
"I come to the U of M with a bias that economic development is
important, that partnerships between the University and the community
are important, and that the U of M, like most universities, has had a
very up and down history in this area," Herman said.
"It's time for the University to open the doors to its capabilities
and to work in a proactive way with its community, both nonprofit and
business and industry partners, in economic development."
Another area rapidly
evolving at the U of M is trying to create approaches, policies and
strategies to allow ideas from the University with commercial value to
get into the commercial world in quicker and more transparent ways, so
the ideas can benefit society. "I interpret the
University's mission and vision statement as saying the role of the
University is to use its intellectual and physical infrastructure for
societal good," Herman said.
"The University is very interested in being more engaged in its
community, both in the nonprofit world in social issues and education
and in the commercial world in terms of business formation, job
creation and workforce training. We're trying to make sure the
University and the state of Minnesota continue to be a very vibrant
place, where people have a very high quality of life, great
educational opportunities, but also that business sees the advantage
of being here, rather than in Texas
or North Carolina."
"The University is open
for business," he said.
The private sector
wants some return on its investments in partnerships with the
Maura Donovan said she comes from the private sector, with 20 years in
the medical device industry.
In those years, she said, she worked on developing partnerships with
universities: selecting the partner and working to get partnerships
structured and moving. The question was often how to get some return
on these partnership investments. "Now I'm on the other side of the
table," she said.
"There is not only a
need on both sides for partnership, but there's also good intent,"
Donovan said. But many times there is the challenge of lack of
"My interest is to bring that knowledge of the private sector closer
into the University, with the hope of being a bit of a translator
going both directions," she said.
The University is
very interested in partnering with government agencies and economic
development organizations around the state and the region.
"It's that broader landscape we're trying to weave together," Donovan
She said the Minnesota
Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) is embarking
on a regional economic competitiveness project that will identify
opportunities to sharpen its strategies and support to help drive
regional economic growth. The project will build upon the many
impressive planning efforts, partnerships, and initiatives underway in
each region in the state.
With support from the McKnight Foundation, the Brookings Institution
is serving as an advisor and expert resource to DEED, providing the
state with market research, objective comparative analysis and
national best practices to inform planning and program alignment.
The U of M is
participating in this effort. "There's a lot of good activity already
starting and underway across the state," she said. "It's a really
fabulous time for the University to step up and be more visible, more
engaged and really offer to be a true partner in these efforts."
Partnering is the theme, she said: partnering across the University,
partnering with business and partnering with the broader economic
The University is
trying to see if there's some commonality of vision, approach and
thought on economic development among different groups working in that
interviewer mentioned that he, Donovan and Herman had been at a
meeting at the University discussing the possibility of creating one
or more faculty positions in the field of regional economics.
The interviewer asked if Donovan and Herman operate from any theory of
regional economic development from which they establish priorities.
Herman responded that
the U of M has a presence in every county in the state through its
campuses and Extension. He said the University doesn't favor one
region over another.
There is a lot of activity in the metro area, but also a large amount
of activity in the outstate regions, as well: in food and agriculture,
in farming and dairy, in energy and biotech.
"We're trying to meet with them to see how the University can be
helpful to them," he said.
Donovan said there are
several pieces: what the University is doing now that needs a broader
or a different audience; looking at what's happening around the region
to see what the needs are; and making sure there's an understanding
within the University of some of those needs, so it can start to
respond and adapt. "You can do it regionally or by industry sectors,"
she said. "We need to have some consistency in how we're approaching
this, as we look at the assets of the state and the assets we want to
cultivate and build for the future."
The University is
working with its industry partners to understand the kind of workforce
they need in the future and to incorporate that into how it teaches
An interviewer commented that business sectors, compared to 50 years
ago, today, and in the future, are constantly changing. He asked how
the U of M is addressing that shift. Herman replied that the U of M's
approach is to try to understand where the world is going. "We have
multiple conversations with multiple stakeholders about their ideas
and their thoughts about what the future holds," he said.
The University talks
with big companies, small companies and midsized companies; with the
political establishment; with nonprofits; and with other academic
institutions, he said. "We've been working very hard to get feedback
from our industry partners to see what kind of workforce they need in
the future," he said. The feedback, he reported, is that instead of
people with a very deep knowledge base in a single area, industry
wants people who have deep expertise in an area, but also have broader
knowledge across sectors.
"We're taking that feedback and trying to incorporate that into how we
teach our students," he said.
The University, Herman
said, also has looked at the major economic bases in the state: energy
and water, health care, and food and agriculture.
"We have purposely aligned the University's hiring of faculty and
staff with what the major economic areas are for the state," he said.
"We're bringing those industries together on how to solve a particular
Discovery Research and Innovation Economy) is funded by the
Legislature to support aligning the expertise of the U of M with the
needs of the economic drivers of the state of Minnesota. "MnDRIVE has been
investing in neuromodulation, deep-brain stimulation and treating
mental illnesses, addictions and Parkinson's disease," Herman said.
"We've been investing in food and agriculture, in partnership with
companies like General Mills and Cargill, because we have 200 food
companies headquartered here, with probably 20 percent of the world's
food economy centered in Minnesota." He said the
University wants to hear what companies' needs are over the next five
to 10 years and how it can address them.
Herman said the
University has also been investing in using biological approaches to
clean the water that comes out of mines, because mining is a big
industry in northern Minnesota. "We have approaches to ameliorate the
environmental impacts of mining to allow the industry to move
forward," he said.
The U of M is also investing in nanotechnology in robotics, in
sensors, in advanced manufacturing, in cars and in drug delivery.
"The University looks for those areas and opportunities where we can
see what's going forward, see where the University has current
strengths, but also see how we can shape the future of the University
that's more aligned with where our economic engines are going," he
The University is
global, as well as local, in its abilities and its partnerships.
Donovan said because of her experience, she is conscious of the needs
of the medical device sector, which has gone through a lot of change
in the past few years. "Increasingly," she said, "what makes this area
still so vital for the industry is focused on infrastructure: the
airport and transit and the ability for these companies to be global
in their operations, but still be based in the Twin Cities. It's not
just the technology; it's the broad package that's so necessary for
keeping companies competitive in this global environment.
The University has a lot to offer in that space.
One of the challenges is that the University is often considered only
focused on Minnesota. But it's global, too, in its abilities and its
The University is
trying to be connected with entities promoting businesses and regional
economic development. Donovan is working
closely with Greater MSP and DEED and Herman serves on the Minneapolis
and St. Paul Chambers of Commerce, LifeScience Alley and Greater MSP.
Herman said the
University has worked with the Itasca Project to develop Minnovator,
which brings together the U of M, St. Thomas University, the Minnesota
State Colleges and Universities (MnSCU) system, Augsburg College,
DEED, LifeScience Alley, the Minnesota High Tech Association and four
industry members, who agree to create more opportunities for students
to get hands-on business experience through internships and
externships and entrepreneurial, experiential activities.
Faculty members need
support to work in partnership with the business community. An interviewer asked
how the University could create incentives for its faculty and deans
to pay more attention to the outside community.
"Money helps," Herman responded. "People want to do important things,
but they need support," he said. MnDRIVE makes an $18 million-a-year
investment in industry/academic partnerships and there must be a
University/industry interaction in order to get that money. He said he
and U of M President Eric Kaler spend a lot of time talking about the
importance of these kinds of partnerships going forward.
And he said the U of M faculty is driving a discussion about making
collaboration with the community part of the evaluation for tenure.
Herman said there is a shared vision that the University should attack
important problems that make a difference to our community and to our
Donovan said U of M
undergraduates, graduate students and post-doctoral fellows want more
connections that lead to job opportunities.
"When you have requests from the people you're teaching to have those
connections, faculty respond," she said.
The University has
special programs in place to try to increase the number of students of
color at the University, now at 20 percent.
An interviewer asked if there is a unique role for the U of M in
addressing issues such as the achievement gap, income inequality and
economic development in the core city.
Herman replied that the University has a tremendous interest in
helping address the achievement gap, because otherwise our community
will continue to have a maldistribution of wealth. "The University is
not doing a good job of recruiting and educating African American
males," he said.
Donovan said the
achievement gap is a good reason for the University to partner with
MnSCU, since each system has different assets to bring to the problem.
The University has an
increasing focus on translational research, which cuts across multiple
departments and disciplines.
An interviewer commented that the U of M is the primary research
institution in the state and that its research program is driven by
the availability of funding and by the perceived priorities within the
individual departments at the University.
Donovan replied that there is an increasing focus on translational
research, which spans different disciplines and is extremely difficult.
Translational research is scientific research that helps to make
findings from basic science useful for improving human health and
"There's a strong
forward momentum for people to think about their research in ways that
will have a direct connection to a consumer or to a societal
application," she said. "Increasingly, there's a definite
understanding that we need outcomes of research in a variety of ways,
not just in basic science.
Faculty engaged in this sort of translational research want help in
networking across and outside of the University.
This will be a good motivator for partnerships and collaborations."
The Food Roundtable
is an example of the University meeting its Land Grant mission by
working with different groups on a common set of issues to create a
better strategy to address key critical issues. An interviewer asked how
the University's Land Grant status affects its research priorities.
Herman responded that the University has a lot of activities outside
the metro area that deal with agriculture, food groups and commodity
example is the Food Roundtable created by the University.
"We've brought together
a large number of these different groups," he said, "and asked, 'Is
there some common issue that the University could help you with that
would help all of you, irrespective of your competitiveness as
businesses?'" Out of those discussions, he said, many people have
developed an interest in food safety and food security.
"The businesses understand that if they can't be sure that food is not
being contaminated when it's being shipped around world, all of them
will be hurt," he said.
The University is
doing quite a bit of applied research.
In response to a question about applied research, Herman said most of
what the University commercializes and moves on to new companies is
There is a new process called Discovery Capital through which the
University can use its own funding to create early-stage investments
in the ideas of students or faculty, Herman said.
It can then partner with the business community and with the private
equity community to create leveraged investments. He noted that it's
never been done in the country before.
Herman said the University has started 50-odd companies in the last
few years and 80 percent of them are still in business two years after
There are people at
the University trying to partner with nonprofit and state agencies on
community development issues.
An interviewer asked whether the U of M reaches out in the same way to
the public and nonprofit community with its research on the social
issues these organizations are trying to address. Donovan said the
University does reach out on those issues, but she deals primarily
with economic development concerns.
Eric Kaler is a change agent who believes the U of M can do more to
relate with the local, national and global community than it has in
the past. An
interviewer asked about the University's leadership role and
independence in dealing with important competitiveness issues, such as
local government subsidies to businesses, copper nickel mining, water
or the achievement gap. "We want leadership," he said, not just a
reactive response from the University. Herman responded that Kaler is
leading community efforts "and is pounding the pavement trying to
convince legislators that pro-business investment in partnership with
the University is the critical path to success of our community."
"The University has
taken the view that we want to be helpful and to do things that have
practical impact for our state, our nation and the global community,"
Herman continued. "We want to make sure we are engaged in the right
conversations and bring to the table the right assets." He said in the
year-and-a-half he has been at the U of M, the conversation on
partnerships has changed 180 degrees.
opportunity here," Herman said.
"The University is tremendously successful already.
It has a very diverse and very accomplished group of faculty, staff
and students, who have created the excellence that's there.
The opportunity lies in bringing those many, many individual areas of
expertise together to forge better solutions and better approaches to
some of the issues impacting us locally and globally."
Donovan added, "Because
of its unique role in the state, the University must think about its
involvement very carefully.
We want to be a voice in the room, but we want to figure out where we
should partner and provide leadership."
The Civic Caucus
is a non-partisan,
tax-exempt educational organization. The Interview Group
includes persons of varying political persuasions,
reflecting years of leadership in politics and
business. Click here
to see a short personal background of each.
S. Adams, David Broden, Audrey Clay, Janis Clay, Pat Davies, Bill
Frenzel, Paul Gilje (coordinator), Randy Johnson, Sallie Kemper, Ted
Kolderie, Dan Loritz (chair),
Tim McDonald, Bruce Mooty, John Mooty, Jim Olson, Paul Ostrow, Wayne
Popham, Dana Schroeder, Clarence Shallbetter, and Fred Zimmerman