By Emily Ford
The University of North Carolina at Charlotte has two different but related roles at the N.C. Research Campus.
In one, scientists discover new ways to solve complex biological problems using computers.
In the other, the Charlotte Research Institute facilitates partnerships between the university and industry, including those interested in novel ways to use computers for scientific research.
Director Dr. Robert Wilhelm likes to call the Charlotte Research Institute the “business portal” for UNC-Charlotte.
With the development of a $1.5 billion biotechnology hub in nearby Kannapolis, his target area quickly expanded to include the Research Campus.
“We want all faculty at the university to think about ways that the North Carolina Research Campus can be an opportunity for research and academic interests,” he said.
The institute manages business access to the university’s Millennial Campus in Charlotte. UNC-Charlotte offers many targeted research centers, including bioinformatics, energy production and motorsports, which all fall under the umbrella of the Charlotte Research Institute.
“Over time, many of the research centers that are at UNCC will have a role to play with NCRC,” Wilhelm said. “It’s only 18 miles away.”
The institute opened an office in Kannapolis in June 2006, the first academic partner to arrive at the Research Campus.
Now, eight universities have a presence. The institute helps foster collaboration between UNC-Charlotte and other university partners, Wilhelm said.
The UNC-Charlotte Bioinformatics Research Center, which also has a branch in Kannapolis, is working with scientists from several other schools.
“We anticipate many more collaborations as activity keeps increasing in Kannapolis,” Wilhelm said.
The institute hosts the Charlotte region’s largest biotech conference every year, which prominently features the Research Campus.
It also runs a six-month-long business plan competition called Five Ventures. This year, 10 of the 35 start-up companies that competed were biotech companies.
The winners earned free temporary space at the Research Campus.
Wilhelm works with developers at the Research Campus to help recruit new companies.
Companies specializing in biomedical engineering systems and biomedical devices show promise as future partners, he said.
Businesses are also interested in improving the quality and efficiency of medical care.
“That will be a significant opportunity for collaboration,” Wilhelm said.
The recession has cut the number of companies seeking out the Charlotte Research Institute by 20 to 30 percent, Wilhelm said.
“It’s slowing their efforts in product development,” he said.
However, research funding at UNC-Charlotte continues to grow by about 15 percent a year, up to $35 million, Wilhelm said.
The institute has eight buildings on the Millennial Campus in Charlotte with three more under construction.
In Kannapolis, UNC-Charlotte still occupies a storefront on Oak Avenue but should move into the Core Laboratory Building this summer, Wilhelm said.
By Emily Ford