Ninety percent of the revenue the four-campus University of Missouri System receives in licensing and royalty fees originates at the Columbia campus. Michael Nichols, the new vice president of research and economic development for the system, is looking to bring the other three campuses up to speed.
The system announced Nichols’ appointment Friday. He begins in his new post Dec. 1.
Nichols comes to the job with a wealth of experience. Since 2006, he has served as the director of the Office of Technology Management and Industry Relations at MU. He has been associated with the university since 1978, when he served on the research faculty of what is now MU’s Dalton Research Center. He has experience in both the academic world — he holds a doctorate in biomedical sciences — and the business world. Nichols founded three technology companies in Columbia: Applied Coating Technologies, Nichols Technologies Inc. and Atomic Paint Shop Inc. He has served as president of all three companies, as well as president of Nichols Scientific Instruments.
In his new position, Nichols will be in charge of the system’s technology transfer operations. Tech transfer is the process of turning the research done at a university into revenue. The push to increase the system’s revenue comes at the same time higher education appropriations from the General Assembly have seen steep declines.
In his role with technology management and industry relations, Nichols worked specifically with the MU campus. Now, his goal is to “bring the whole system higher” by increasing the amount of patenting and licensing for all the campuses in the UM System. The four campuses, Nichols said, “are all at different points of growth. They’re at different stages of their evolution of tech transfer and they can benefit from Columbia’s experience.”
Marc Linit, associate dean for research and extension, was introduced to Nichols at MU’s Plant Transformation Facility when Nichols was working to negotiate the terms of corporations using the campus’ facility. Linit said he was excited when he learned that Nichols had accepted the new position.
“I have just always found him to be very enthusiastic,” Linit said. “He’s well grounded in reality, but he’s dedicated to finding a way to make the situation work for the university.”
Nichols was hired after a nationwide search, said Scott Charton, director of communications for the UM System. Chief of Staff David Russell advertised nationally in publications geared toward economic development. Since this is a position that reports directly to the system president, candidates weren’t interviewed by a committee. Instead, Russell and Interim President Gordon Lamb interviewed candidates themselves.
According to the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation’s “2007 State of the New Economy,” Missouri ranks 35th in the 50 states in regards to “the new economy.” This means that in terms of entrepreneurial, knowledge-based, global and innovative economy, Missouri struggles, the foundation reported. Nichols said he thinks MU is an “economic engine” that will improve the standings of the state as it increases the number of patents and licenses in the years to come.
“Building a team of tech transfer across the state is what I’ll be focused on,” he said.
Nichols succeeds John Gardner, who was the first person appointed to the vice president of research and economic development when the position was created in 2005. Gardner has accepted a similar position at Washington State University. During his time at MU, he advocated student entrepreneurship. Nichols will continue to support this effort. He said that employers in the workplace these days are not only looking for people to fill positions; they are also looking for someone to lead. In his new position, Nichols will earn $187,500 per year.