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"Collaboration Culture" Builds Businesses at Virginia Tech Corporate Research Center

David Seidel/Radio IQ

The numbers were big: nearly 600 new jobs and a 20,000 square foot expansion by IT services company 1901 Group. The announcement last month was the latest success story at Virginia Tech’s Corporate Research Center—a foundation-owned business park located next to the university in Blacksburg. 

Since it began in 1985, the CRC, as it is known, has grown to dozens of private companies employing nearly 3,000 people.  Its CEO says a collaoration culture is building everything from blockchain to biomedical technology to black garlic right in the New River Valley.

When it's running, CellInk's top of the line bioprinter doesn’t sound that different from your home printer.  But it’s at the cutting edge of biomedical research.

Started in part by a Virginia Tech graduate in 2016, CellInk’s Blacksburg office is tucked away in one of the 33 buildings at Virginia Tech’s Corporate Research Center.  The company’s Chief BioInk Officer, Patrick Thayer, explains the process. "Bioink is a bio material that has been adapted for use in a 3D bioprinter for printing all sorts of stuff such as tissue constructs or drug screening models," Thayer says. "If you imagine you want to print a millimeter thick, three centimeters by five centimeters skin graft, based on your density, you could print that in about five minutes."

The company’s inks and printers are used in some 450 research labs in more than 50 countries. While the finished products can’t be used for human transplant, Thayer says there’s increasing interest for industrial and pharmaceutical uses, even the cosmetic industry that needs skin models to replace now-banned animal testing.

Located in another building, one whiff tells you something is different about Obis One.  It's the heavy smell of garlic.

This company, founded by a husband and wife team who are both Virginia Tech graduates, processes organic black garlic and foods. Patrick Lloyd calls himself the serial foodie in the operation.  "People eat it for health, two to six whole cloves a day. Or the culinary applications just keep growing," Lloyd says.

Credit David Seidel/Radio IQ
Obis One operations manager David Nutter (left) and founders Lisa and Patrick Lloyd

Operations manager David Nutter says he sometimes gets some odd looks from  the company's neighbors in the building. "Sometimes from the smells.  Anytime we start a new production run, the odor is very overwhelming the first week."

Lisa Lloyd admits they’re not the stereotypical tenants. "I think the administration here, as part of the corporate research center, has just been tremendous in terms of their support and flexibility and willingness to work with us as kind of an oddball out of the tenants here," she notes.

"Plus the staff at the CRC, I’ll take them anything I make," Patrick Lloyd adds.  "They’ll try it. So there’s my test group right there."

The corporate research center’s CEO, Joe Meredith, says the mix of businesses has created a community of collaboration that benefits the university, students and the regional economy. "I think we’ve created the perfect culture.  Access to the university for all the talent that comes out of the university and the intellectual property that comes out of the university.  And the opportunity to sponsor research on campus to   solve commercialization problems.  And it’s a perfect match," Meredith says.

Meredith expects that community to grow in the next few years with new amenities like apartments, retail space and hotels.

Those amenities are "bang on" with where research parks are going, according to Carol Stewart.  Stewart is the CEO of the Association of University Research Parks.  "So it's having the amenities, whether it's child care colocated in the park, amenities whether its food or fun, and also residential."  But more importantly, Stewart says, is access to talent.  "What keeps CEO’s up at night is talent. So experiential learning whether through intern or coop is a great way to test drive talent."

RadioIQ is a service of Virginia Tech.