Introducing our Innovation & Commercialization Practice Area Leader: Eric Anderson
Much of Eric’s diverse portfolio centers around helping clients leverage real estate to advance goals around innovation and commercialization, developing and activating spaces to support faculty researchers and entrepreneurs, student entrepreneurs, industry partnerships, and community stakeholders. His years of experience in economic development for the City of New York help him understand how to do exactly that, by building thriving ecosystems that catalyze – and commercialize – innovation everywhere.
WHAT DO YOU DO FOR U3 ADVISORS?
I lead our innovation and research commercialization work. The work takes on a number of forms depending on the client. It may have components that involve student entrepreneurship, workforce and community development, local and regional economic development. But for the R1 institutions that comprise many of our clients, this usually starts with thinking about faculty entrepreneurs, industry partnerships, and the commercialization of university research and intellectual property.
Manifesting an institution’s innovation goals in a real estate strategy – whether at a district or building level – involves a lot of thinking about what the various program components are that will create a successful ecosystem and how those components best fit together. Those typologies vary a little bit as you think about moving up the lifecycle of startup and scaleup companies. You see the need for incubator and accelerator spaces for the earliest stage startups, then moving into somewhat more dedicated spaces for later stage companies, then you have mature companies that might be less directly tied to university research, but are important to the whole knowledge-sharing ecosystem. Further complicating the real estate considerations are the highly-technical, expensive nature of many of these space typologies that are often serving functions related to life sciences, advanced manufacturing, ag tech, or other science and engineering disciplines.
And just as important as the program strategy is helping an institution figure out the transaction strategy to deliver a project most effectively – taking into account an institution’s financial circumstances, risk tolerance, desired level of project control, and organizational capacity for both development and management of these often very specialized assets. The real estate moves to realize these strategies are often complex, from governance agreements involving internal and external stakeholders, to phasing considerations, to entitling and developing land for these unique assets, to project financing, to operating buildings that often have third-party tenants in addition to institutional anchors. I’ll help clients think through and analyze all of these factors and more. Often the complexity suggests value in engaging a third-party partner from the growing universe of world-class developers experienced in these kinds of projects. I’ll help our clients engage those folks, whether it’s at an early, information-gathering stage, or later where we may be running a competitive procurement or otherwise soliciting prospective partners, and ultimately executing a deal to bring these projects to life.
HOW DID YOU GET INVOLVED IN THIS WORK?
Before joining U3 Advisors almost seven years ago, I was at the New York City Economic Development Corporation, working in a group that facilitated complicated, multi-workstream, multi-stakeholder projects. We might be coordinating a project that involved the Department of City Planning, the Department of Sanitation, a state entity, and myriad other internal groups, as an example. All those ideas of economic development carry through to my U3 work: how I think about universities’ roles as anchor institutions and as catalysts for economic development and job creation and industry attraction/retention in their geographies.
ARE MORE UNIVERSITIES AND CITIES NOW ASKING FOR HELP NOW WITH INNOVATION AND TECHNOLOGY TRANSFER?
Yes, you increasingly see universities pursuing innovation projects, whether on their main campus, at the campus edge where the university meets the city or town, as part of an urban innovation district in their area that may not be immediately adjacent to their campus, or as a “version 2.0” of a legacy research park.
In all of these cases, there is an increasing sophistication around how these ecosystems successfully function, with an intentionality around the ideas of innovation and commercialization that goes beyond just sponsored research agreements and attracting large, mature companies. Really, a healthy innovation ecosystem is very strategic about aligning local economic strengths with institutional research strengths, supporting companies across the stages of life cycle growth from startup to scale-up to maturity, surrounding lab and office spaces with complementary uses and workforce amenities, and otherwise planning both inside and outside spaces to support vibrancy, collaboration and ideation.
All that to say: yes, there are a lot of folks out there thinking about the goal of commercializing their research, and some folks that are really forward-looking, thinking about it from more of the external perspective of their role as economic anchors, serving their local city or region.
WHAT’S A RECENT PROJECT THAT HAS DONE THAT REALLY EFFECTIVELY?
The University of Calgary has been a great client for many years now as we’ve helped them in realizing what is now the University Innovation Quarter. There is a campus next to the main university campus that was the University Research Park. It really was just a glorified business park, with a bunch of single tenant buildings that were not strategically aligned with the school’s research. It wasn’t even owned by the university; it was owned by the province of Alberta. We helped them put together a forward-looking vision for the lands, which they used to solicit the province to transfer control of the property. Then we helped them develop a program and pro forma financial models and secure a local government grant to convert a former corporate energy research facility into what is now the Life Sciences Innovation Hub. Now we’re working on the next stage in doing exactly what I described above: help them figure out what the disciplinary areas are that they want to focus on for the larger district – like advanced manufacturing, computing and data sciences, social innovation, and additional life science uses – think about what the accompanying real estate is for those pieces, how it all fits into a district program, and then how to transact to realize the project.