NDSU welcomes area business leaders to reception for Graffeo and Gernhart

The NDSU Office of Research and Creative Activity (RCA) hosted a welcome reception for Zane Gernhart, PhD, executive director the NDSU Research Foundation and Cindy Graffeo, director of innovation and economic development for NDSU. Both Gernhart and Graffeo recently joined the RCA leadership team.

Area business leaders, state and local government officials, NDSU faculty, students and staff, NDSU President David Cook, and NDSU Vice President for Research Colleen Fitzgerald attended the event.

Graffeo and Gernhart, through their respective roles, support NDSU’s Innovation Portfolio, where the knowledge created by research is translated into impact and application, through commercialization, entrepreneurship, technology transfer, university/industry partnerships, economic development, or another innovation pathway.

The NDSU Research Foundation (NDSURF), a not-for-profit organization that facilitates the transfer of scientific discoveries, technologies, products, and processes from NDSU to the marketplace, currently manages more than 380 technologies. Speaking about NDSURF's recent performance, Fitzgerald noted that "the Foundation has licensing revenue of more than $3.1 million over the last two years and was ranked sixth (normalized) in the nation in terms of licenses and options issued and 117 overall by the 2022 Heartland Forward report."

"After nine years of progressively increased responsibility in tech transfer and commercialization at NUtech Ventures, the nonprofit commercialization affiliate of the University of Nebraska–Lincoln, Zane is the first full-time executive director of North Dakota Research Foundation and he will collaborate, develop, and advocate for a shared vision that supports commercialization and economic development for all NDSU researchers," she said.

Within RCA, the Innovation and Economic Development unit is essentially launching as a new office under Graffeo, who will be designing, leading, and managing economic development and leveraging opportunities for industry partnerships for NDSU. "We are in the process of developing and delivering programming in our office that will nurture and grow the region’s entrepreneurial startup ecosystem," Fitzgerald said. "Cindy's background as Executive Director of the Downtown Community Partnership in Fargo and as Chief of Staff for Dakota Medical Foundation give her a great deal of expertise and local connections that will help move this initiative forward."

Fitzgerald noted how NDSU is the only Carnegie R1 institution in the state and the university's research expenditures--an indicator of the vibrancy of a research ecosystem--are the highest among all North Dakota higher education institutions.

"A result of that vibrancy was the $2.5 million in Economic Diversification Research Funds provided by the North Dakota Legislature in HB1003 and signed into law by Governor Burgum," she said. "Through those funds, NDSU is focusing on use-inspired research and development of the infrastructure needed to enhance the capacity to take research into practice through translational support for innovations. The programs that NDSU will fund through the 2024-2025 biennium Economic Diversification Research Funds will focus on the establishment and development of an NDSU Innovations to Practice Program." Fitzgerald thanked the legislators, Governor Burgum, the GFMEDC, FMWF Chamber, and the Valley Prosperity Partnership for their advocacy of the funds.

Contact info: 

Cindy Graffeo
Innovation and Economic Development Director
(701) 231-6441

Zane Gernhart
Executive Director, NDSU Research Foundation
(701) 231-6743

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