UMN Research Enterprise Surpasses Billion-Dollar Milestone

Person holds up a dish in a laboratory

The University of Minnesota’s research expenditures surpassed the $1 billion mark for the first time.

The UMN Office of the Vice President for Research recently released data showing the total research and development expenditures in fiscal year 2019—the most recent year for which data is available—totaled to $1.013 billion for the Twin Cities campus alone and $1.04 billion when all five University campuses were included. The milestone demonstrates the magnitude of the University’s efforts to advance knowledge across a wide range of fields, yielding new solutions, ideas, medical treatments, and other technologies that can then be commercialized for the benefit of the public.

Data from fiscal 2020 shows that external research awards to University researchers remained strong despite the interruptions caused by COVID-19, seeing a 1.5 percent increase over the previous year for a record total of $876 million for all five campuses. Meanwhile, UMN Technology Commercialization demonstrated national leadership in bringing researchers’ inventions to market, including numerous innovations in the fight against COVID-19.

“In a year where at one point we froze most of our research operations because of COVID-19, it’s remarkable that our research awards kept pace and even grew,” said Vice President for Research Christopher Cramer. “Many of our researchers threw themselves into new pandemic-related research projects, from determining the circulation patterns for indoor air particles, to monitoring drinking water for the virus, to understanding the effects of pandemic stay-at-home measures on domestic violence. Others, such as those already studying coronaviruses, genomics, or filtration science, for example, were able to shift their existing work quickly to focus on the SARS-CoV-2 virus and COVID-19 disease.”

University researchers were awarded 27 sponsored research grants related to COVID-19 in fiscal 2020, including an $18 million grant from the State of Minnesota to provide rapid widespread coronavirus testing for Minnesota residents in collaboration with the Mayo Clinic, a $4.2 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to coordinate UK and EU clinical trials for treating COVID-19 with a combination of anti-inflammatory and anti-viral medications, and a grant from NIH that helped University researchers identify early on how the novel coronavirus enters cells.

Bringing Discoveries Beyond the Lab

The University licenses 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.

In its efforts to commercialize technology created by faculty and staff, the University saw continued strength, tying the record 19 startups it spun out last year, and boosting its number of new licenses for UMN technology, number of inventions disclosed by its researchers, number of revenue-generating agreements, and amount of sponsored research commitments from companies. The number of patents issued for University technology remained steady.

Alongside the broader University’s shift to COVID-19-related research, UMN Technology Commercialization worked to license more than a dozen University inventions, including a low-cost emergency ventilator, a portable aerosol hood that limits virus-containing droplet and aerosol transmission, and a deep learning artificial intelligence tool that helps radiologists and physicians rapidly identify COVID-19 patients through analysis of chest x-rays. The University also signed onto COVID-19 Licensing Guidelines aimed at getting University innovations that could fight the virus and the COVID-19 pandemic into the marketplace as quickly as possible.

“With COVID-19, this past year was the ‘year of the pivot’ at the University of Minnesota,” said Rick Huebsch, executive director of Technology Commercialization. “Our University’s researchers and our office’s technology transfer professionals met the challenge of COVID-19 with renewed dedication, flexibility and entrepreneurship. Those efforts exemplify our two-fold focus on technology commercialization and the public good and the tech commercialization statistics this past year illustrate that.”

The University’s technology transfer efforts received high rankings during the time period, placing 22nd overall (2nd among Big Ten public institutions) in the Reuters 2019 World's Most Innovative Universities ranking; eighth in the US (2nd among Big Ten public institutions) for “innovation impact” by the George W. Bush Institute; and 17th in the world (fourth among Big Ten public institutions) for universities granted US utility patents by the National Academy of Inventors.

In the University’s Venture Center, 18 participants were involved in the Discovery Launchpad business incubator for UMN startups, and 12 completed the program in fiscal 2020. The Discovery Capital program, which provides matching investment capital to UMN startups, evaluated 14 opportunities and invested a total of $1.2 million in six startups.

The University has now spun out 170 companies since FY2006, with operations across a variety of fields and 74 percent of them based in Minnesota. Three UMN startups received Minnesota Tekne Awards in the past year: Anatomi, in the Startup Division; Calyxt, in the AgTech Division; and NovoClade, in the Special SBIR Honoree category.


See the news release for more detail and a note on methodology. Vice President Cramer will present a fuller analysis of fiscal 2020 research and technology commercialization statistics to the University’s Board of Regents on December 10, 2020.