Graffeo named NDSU Innovation and Economic Development Director

Cindy Graffeo has been hired as the Innovation and Economic Development Director for the NDSU Office of Research and Creative Activity. In this role, she will design, lead, and manage economic development; leverage opportunities for industry partnerships; and develop and deliver programming that nurtures and grows the region’s entrepreneurial startup ecosystem.

The Fargo community is host to a dynamic and energetic startup ecosystem thanks to efforts from organizations like Emerging Prairie and Grand Farm and NDSU alumni who have played a vibrant role in the state’s economy through business creation, including the Microsoft Fargo campus, the presence of John Deere and AGCO in the NDSU Research & Technology Park (through acquisitions of Phoenix International and Appareo, respectively), and Aldevron, which was the single largest acquisition of a North Dakota-based company at $9.6 billion by Danaher.

As a member of NDSU Vice President of Research Colleen Fitzgerald’s leadership team, Graffeo will play a vital role in this ecosystem by strategically leveraging and aligning campus and regional resources, opportunities, and assets in order to foster and support economic development, startups, entrepreneurship, and innovative efforts campus- and state-wide.

Graffeo joins NDSU at the same time that other new leadership roles related to the local business ecosystem are occurring, including a new executive director for the NDSU Research Foundation and an upcoming search for a new director for the NDSU Research & Technology Park.

The three individuals will collectively coordinate their distinct efforts in a complementary fashion to advance research, innovation, and economic development for NDSU, North Dakota and the entire Great Plains Region.

“I’m excited to explore the opportunities to bridge the gaps between industry and NDSU,” said Graffeo. “I’m a big believer in the abilities of our local businesses and I know that when we bring them together with NDSU researchers, great things are going to happen.”

In combination with the $2.5 million in Economic Diversification Research funding support from the North Dakota Legislature this year, NDSU has strategically positioned itself to capitalize on opportunities for research commercialization, entrepreneurship, and university/industry partnerships in the region, according to NDSU Vice President of Research Colleen Fitzgerald.

“NDSU’s Innovation Portfolio is already at a strong place but it’s set to get even stronger,” said Fitzgerald. “A solid connection to industry will provide researchers with an avenue to commercialize their inventions while providing people everywhere the opportunity to benefit from the results of their work.”

Graffeo most recently served as Executive Director of the Downtown Community Partnership in Fargo, a role in which she was an advocate for businesses, residents, and community partners and was focused on driving economic growth, vibrancy, and advocacy for Fargo. Previously, she served a similar role in Moorhead and as Chief of Staff for Dakota Medical Foundation.

“Cindy has built her reputation on creating partnerships and relationships with businesses and people across the region,” added Fitzgerald. “We are all excited to welcome her to NDSU, where she can leverage that ability to forge an even larger, more diverse, and impactful network.”

Graffeo will begin her new role on July 25.

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