External Research Funding Surges 31%, Led by COVID-Related Grants

University of Minnesota researchers successfully competed for a record amount of external funding last year, pushing past the $1 billion mark for the first time in the University’s history.

Researchers attracted $1.15 billion in external awards in fiscal year 2021, a 31 percent jump from the previous year that was fueled in part by $256 million in COVID-related projects. Recent data also shows the University maintained robust growth in many areas across the research enterprise and launched a record number of new startup companies.

“During this time of global urgency, in which society depends more than ever on science for insight and guidance, our researchers have truly risen to the challenge,” said Michael Oakes, PhD, the University’s interim vice president for research. “Their success in attracting this level of funding demonstrates their commitment to addressing the many impacts of the pandemic and helping to ultimately bring it to an end. This level of dedication exists not just in medicine and public health, but throughout all disciplines as part of the fabric of a public, land-grant university.”

More about this year’s awards:

  • Funding from federal, business and industry, and other private sources accounted for the bulk of the external awards increase, growing by $68.1 million (12.7 percent), $174.0 million (213.3 percent), and $35.2 million (24.0 percent), respectively, over the previous year.
  • Awards from state and local sources decreased slightly (by $4.8 million), overshadowed by large COVID-19-related awards from the State of Minnesota in the previous year.
  • The University’s School of Public Health (SPH) and Medical School saw significant increases, with awards growing by $201.9 million (306.6 percent) and $51.9 million (18.6 percent), respectively. SPH’s portfolio was buoyed significantly by $189.8 million in awards for its Coordinating Centers for Biometric Research, which was able to quickly and nimbly meet the needs of agencies like the National Institutes of Health to test possible COVID-19 treatments in clinical trials across the nation and the globe.     
  • External research funding to both the College of Science and Engineering and the College of Education and Human Development each increased by over $8 million. 
  • Overall, many of the grants received carried large dollar amounts, with 44 percent of the total external funding comprising grants exceeding $1 million each.

Research expenditures, which include both external awards and institutional funding but lag in measurement by one year, rose slightly in fiscal 2020. Expenditures at the Twin Cities campus climbed 2.9 percent to $1.04 billion. That figure for all five University campuses combined grew 2.7 percent to $1.07 billion.

Record Number of Startups Launched

In fiscal 2021, UMN Technology Commercialization continued to license relevant research to companies for the development of new products and services that benefit the public good, foster economic growth, and generate revenue to further support its mission. The University signed 236 new licensing deals and ended the year with 575 current revenue-generating agreements.

Some of those new licenses were with startup companies. Technology Commercialization’s Venture Center launched a record 20 startup companies during the year, with 14 of them based in Minnesota. These startups include Exergi Predictive, which uses a data analytics system to improve the fuel and electric efficiency of hybrid electric trucks used in commercial applications. University President Joan Gabel said at a recent Board of Regents meeting that the University is on track to reach its MPact 2025 goal of launching 25 startups per year by 2025.

Also during fiscal 2021, the University was issued 181 patents from US and foreign patent offices. Researchers set the foundation for future commercialization success by making 332 invention disclosures to Technology Commercialization.

“By combining the expertise of industry leaders and academic researchers, we are able to pursue new and exciting research directions, while ensuring the discoveries that result have a path to the market, where they can benefit people in society,” said Rick Huebsch, executive director for UMN Technology Commercialization. “To help reach Pres. Gabel’s goals for increased corporate engagement, we are streamlining the experience for companies interested in engaging with the University, whether it be to sponsor research, license technology, or tap researchers’ expertise.”


See the news release for additional data and a note on methodology. Interim Vice President Oakes will present a more detailed analysis of fiscal 2021 research and technology commercialization statistics at the December Board of Regents meeting.