By Meg Cullar
Photographs by Julie Copenhaver
Participants in the Baylor Alumni Association’s Lifelong Learning program toured Baylor’s BRIC (Baylor Research and Innovation Collaborative) facility in April. More than thirty-five participants got to learn how Baylor professors and students are turning “science to gold” through Baylor’s research and entrepreneurship efforts at the facility.
Making research visible is what architects had in mind when they reimagined and renovated the 300,000-square-foot building, a long-shuttered tire plant, into the anchor for a scientific research and innovation park, said Bobby Cryns, MBA ’97, the facility’s director.
Just a few years ago, this building was literally a cavern of darkness, with every surface covered by a fine carbon dust left from its industrial days. Now light from above fills the building’s three stories, where architects bumped up the roof and added clerestory windows all around. The BRIC’s modern industrial style features open atriums but preserves elements of the original building, especially rough concrete columns and other sturdy supports that are still visible on each floor.
The BRIC, which houses engineering and physics research space for Baylor, is a collaborative effort that has received funds from the State of Texas, McLennan County, the City of Waco, the City of Bellmead, and the Cooper Foundation, in addition to the $30 million invested by Baylor. Major partners include Texas State Technical College, McLennan Community College, and the Greater Waco Chamber of Commerce.
A key component to the success of the BRIC is the inclusion of Launch, an “innovative business accelerator” that is part of the Hankamer School of Business. Launch director Dr. Gregory Leman, a Hankamer professor, said that the business accelerator will help turn “science into gold” through solid business practices.
Scientists often have world-changing ideas, Leman said, but sometimes they have trouble moving from the laboratory to the marketplace. Launch is designed to propel new science-based businesses toward success and independence by helping them on several levels — from operational and distribution advice to marketing strategies.
“What we do here is work on those issues with companies so they can get from idea to changing the world,” Leman said.
That begins with articulating their vision, Leman said. “One of the biggest challenges is to help them tell their story in the right language,” he said.
Launch also trains business start-ups to anticipate obstacles. That’s important to success, Leman said, because, “No plan ever unfolds exactly the way you think it will.” Being able to navigate through the obstacles is a major key to success, he said.
Baylor students are learning by being involved in the process, Leman said. “We wanted students to experience what it takes by having them work with real companies.”
The accelerator program has been up and running as part of the Hankamer School of Business for more than six years, Leman said. Hankamer and Baylor’s School of Engineering and Computer Science jointly offer a certificate program for undergraduate students in technology entrepreneurship. And there is a joint MBA-master of engineering program also, he said.
The Launch team moved to the BRIC in late January and now is an “outpost” of Hankamer. Over the years, Leman said, the success rate for businesses helped by the group has been about 75 percent. While it’s too early to measure the success rate as part of BRIC, Leman said, businesses are clamoring to get on board. “People are coming to us and saying, ‘We need help,’” he said.
Officials said that most of the BRIC’s fifty thousand square feet of space that is reserved for private industry is already spoken for. But future plans include expanding beyond the one building.
The Lifelong Learning group tour on April 22 was part of a four-part class series on the Baylor Entrepreneurship Program. During the other class sessions, Lifelong Learning members heard from Baylor professors about Hankamer’s venture creation and global programs and about the Baylor Angel Network.