University leaders, governmental officials, business and industry partners and members of the greater community were on campus Friday, Feb. 28, for the formal dedication of the PORTAL building, a facility developed to harness the power of UNC Charlotte to stimulate business growth and job creation.
“PORTAL provides us an expanded, visible and proximate platform for a variety of activities that will bring our faculty closer to entrepreneurs, business partners and our capacity in technology transfer, and—critically—to place our undergraduate and graduate students in the middle of the University’s role in regional economic development,” stated Chancellor Philip L. Dubois. “As our productivity in research has increased… we realized we would need to, as they say in sports, ‘elevate our game’ beyond what the state could do. Thus, PORTAL was borne in concept.”
A marriage of vision and practicality, PORTAL is an acronym for Partnership, Outreach and Research to Accelerate Learning. The four-story, 96,000-square-foot facility is located on the Charlotte Research Institute campus near the entrance from North Tryon Street.
North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory, on campus for a business roundtable meeting, championed the University’s vision in developing PORTAL. He said the connection between academia and commerce was critical to economic development.
“Great entrepreneurs build businesses,” stated McCrory. “The next Bill Gates could come out of PORTAL, so I applaud this supportive, dynamic partnership.”
In introducing the governor, Dubois noted that during McCrory’s tenure as Charlotte mayor, the two discussed the catalytic relationship that can exist between business and the University if the right infrastructure is in place. The commitment to extending light rail to campus illustrated the governor’s understanding for the need to link “brains with trains.”
UNC Charlotte has a long history of connecting with the region and state, particularly through the Charlotte Research Institute, noted Robert Wilhelm, vice chancellor for research and economic development. He said the institute is “our business partner organization, growing applied interdisciplinary research and connecting our results with corporate, institutional and entrepreneurial partners.
“PORTAL offers many features to extend and amplify that mission,” said Wilhelm. “A contemporary and open design draws academia, corporate partners, and entrepreneurs to mix and create new ideas that will become the products and companies that the Charlotte region is known for.”
Located in the middle of the Charlotte Research Campus, PORTAL is surrounded by many of the University’s strongest research centers for bioinformatics, metrology, motorsports, biomedical, optoelectronics and energy production, Wilhelm added.
Funding for PORTAL did not involve any state appropriations, noted Dubois.
“We have taken on a long-term obligation funded from the revenues we receive as a result of competing for research contracts and grants,” the chancellor explained.
A number of business partners are located currently in PORTAL to pursue research and development partnerships. The building also offers additional space for established companies that want a research and development location at UNC Charlotte.
PORTAL also houses Ventureprise, a venture development organization formerly known as the Ben Craig Center and one of the first university-based business incubators in the nation. The facility includes space for the University’s Technology Transfer Office and 49er Foundry, a business incubator for students, too.