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STAR Campus Has a Bright Future

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University partners with business, public sector for a thriving innovation hub

Newark’s big industrial loss has turned into that city’s — and Delaware’s — bigger gain.

When the final Chrysler Durango, just outfitted with a jaunty sun roof, rolled off the assembly line at the company’s sprawling Newark automotive plant along South College Street in late 2008, it was a huge blow to the region’s economy and its self-image as a Mid-Atlantic manufacturing hub.

STAR Campus | Photo c/o University of Delaware

The University of Delaware (UD), whose South Campus and athletic complex is located just across the street, was considered a prime candidate to buy the facility, and talks between the two parties had already begun in 2007. About 20 months after those talks started, the university announced on Nov. 23, 2009 that it was now the proud owner of the sprawling, 272-acre facility.

The first thing then-UD president Patrick Harker did was call Delaware Gov. Jack Markell, who had helped lend state support, with the news. The university’s press release noted that the preliminary analysis suggested likely candidates for inclusion for this new campus were UD’s research partnership with the Army, the Delaware Health Sciences Alliance and several university research centers and institutes.

Today, with one high-rise facility having opened in 2018, two this year, and a fourth slated for 2021, the university’s Science, Technology and Advanced Research — STAR — Campus has far exceeded those meager early expectations.

‘Come back when you have the money’

“I came in 2009 when the university was negotiating to buy the site,” says Kathleen Matt, dean of the College of Health Sciences and a major force behind the STAR Campus’ growth. “The university was starting to tear things down, and I asked them to save the old Chrysler administration building. Our public health clinics on the main campus had no room to expand, and I thought that building could be a great place for them.”

Matt also contracted an architect to see if the present building could be expanded as well as remodeled. She says she was told that “a new tower would cost several million, and the university said, ‘Come back to us when you have the money.’” Realizing a public fundraising campaign would take years to complete, Matt decided to try something that had worked for her former employer, Arizona State University, which had a public-private development program with the Mayo Clinic.

“I approached Delle Donne, and they agreed to build the Tower at STAR and then lease it back to us,” Matt says. In 2014, the health care clinics moved into the revamped Chrysler building, which is also leased from Delle Donne, and Matt and her Health Sciences innovation and research offices moved into the newly constructed, 10-story adjacent tower in 2018. “The idea from the beginning was to bring the community into the university through clinics and other means,” she says. 

Most of the traditional classroom activities for Health Sciences are still conducted on the main campus, while many of the department’s research projects and clinical training take place at STAR. One of those units is a combination fashion and engineering lab run by Martha Hall, director of innovation for the department. Using 3-D body scanning, 3-D knitting machines and 3-D printing, the lab can produce personalized prototypes of garments for people with special needs in clothing. “Students get to experiment with hands-on innovation here,” Matt explains.

A total of 759 faculty, staff, clinicians and students work in floors 2–7 at the Tower, and another 174 work in the adjacent STAR Health Sciences Complex, including clinicians, researchers, students, faculty and staff. Annually, about 8,573 patients make 28,891 visits to the health clinics.

A new home for biopharmaceutical innovation

Kelvin Lee
NIIMBL Director

But the Tower, with its iconic “living wall” composed of 5,000 plants, isn’t the most recent addition to STAR Campus; that honor belongs to two other buildings. One is the six-story, 228,000-square-feet Ammon Pinizzotto Biopharmaceutical Innovation Center, which houses NIIMBL — the National Institute for Innovation in Manufacturing Biopharmaceuticals, one of the 14 institutes in the Manufacturing USA network.

“We learned in late 2015 that the federal government was going to host a competition,” says UD faculty member Kelvin Lee, “and the university led the effort to create the institute here.” Lee also serves as NIIMBL’s director. One of multiple applicants, Lee’s team was awarded the project in late 2016. Currently, NIIMBL members include the federal government and most of the major pharmaceuticals, biopharmaceuticals and medical devices companies.

“We have calls for projects,” Lee says, “and the applicants are evaluated for technical merit, potential risk and potential payoffs.” As competing companies may be jointly involved in a particular project proposal, Lee says that a decision is made before the project is submitted as to how any intellectual property ownership will be divided among the principals. “Then when they get to a certain stage, all projects are published on the NIIMBL website,” Lee says. About 30-35 NIIMBL employees will be involved initially.

In addition to NIIMBL, Ammon Pinizzotto is intended to house the university’s Department of Biomedical Engineering as well as the Delaware Biotechnology Institute. The building was slated to debut this past spring, but plans for a full opening were suspended amid the COVID crisis, Matt says. 

New chemistry, fintech buildings 

Another recent addition is the Chemours Discovery Hub, the Delaware-based chemical company’s 312,000-square-foot research facility that opened this spring. The building houses around 330 of the company’s R&D scientists, according to Chemours Site Manager Heidi Martelock.

“In addition to researching new products,” Martelock continues, “we’re going to develop new applications for our existing products and work to improve the performance of our products in existing applications. For example, our titanium dioxide is used as a pigment in architectural coatings. So we might conduct experiments to help our customers develop a new type of paint.”

Another university school, the Lerner College of Business and Economics, will assume a major presence at STAR in 2021 when the currently-under-construction Financial Services Technology, or FinTech, building is slated to open. A combined project of the university, Discover Bank and Delaware Technology Park (DTP), which already has facilities at STAR, the building will be six stories and house 100,000 square feet of space.

The FinTech building “will contain faculty, students and entrepreneurs with outstanding data science knowledge and digital management competencies as well as support resources for business development and community education,” says Mike Bowman, president and CEO of DTP. The building will house spaces for startup companies under the aegis of DTP as well as labs and offices for Lerner and for the College of Engineering, UD’s Office of Economic Innovation and Partnerships (OEIP) and Delaware’s Small Business Development Center.

Although these four buildings are the newest on the campus, they join older tenants who have been operating at STAR for several years. One is Bloom Energy, the world’s leading manufacturer of fuel cells, whose manufacturing facility opened in 2013, and another is SevOne, which provides network monitoring and analytics solutions, and located here in 2015. 

Along with Health Sciences, Delaware Technology Park’s DTP@STAR unit has been helping to launch new startups that had their genesis at STAR or other parts of the university. Along with work started at DTP’s nearby main campus, more than 80 companies have moved through the park since 1992, creating more than 16,000 jobs, Bowman says. More companies are now “incubating” at STAR. 

So the STAR constellation continues its dynamic growth with established research corporations, emerging startup firms spawned at STAR, governmental enterprises and facilities to train the students who will be tomorrow’s entrepreneurs. 

By Roger Morris

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