Since 2008, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation has been backing an effort to make its birthplace of Akron, Ohio a center for medical innovation. The initiative to build the region’s economy around this work has had its share of snags, but the funder is keeping it alive with a $4 million extension of funding.
The state of Ohio is also contributing $1 million to the Austen BioInnovation Institute in Akron (AIBA), continuing funding for three more years as the nonprofit partnership works to gain its footing as a sturdy hub for medical research and product development.
The Knight Foundation—which is now based in Miami, but started in Ohio along with Knight Newspapers—originally supported the institute with $20 million back in 2008, a funding stream that just ended. The endeavor was launched by Knight and five other partners to pull tougher experts in materials science, biomedical engineering, healthcare, and product development regulations to build the area’s economy around medical innovation.
The institute has struggled, however, as AIBA has not generated much revenue, and while it has created about 450 jobs in six years, its original goal was 2,400 jobs in 10 years. The loss of two founding partners prompted the institute to reevaluate its approach, including cost-cutting measures and active recruitment of new partners. It recently recruited a specialty manufacturer and an engineering firm.
While Knight isn’t pulling the plug on funding for AIBA, and notes some job creation and recent progress, to secure the full amount of the grant, the institute needs to hit targets for cost and revenue. The funding from Knight and the state will help the partnership expand work in product innovation, commercialization and prototyping.
The project might seem a bit outside of Knight’s usual grantmaking parameters, as the funder is mostly known for media innovation, arts, and community support. But the foundation prioritizes giving in the cities where the Knight Brothers owned newspapers, and Akron holds a special place in its heart as the city where the media empire all began.
Its strategy in the city centers on building up the core of its economic vitality, trying to use Akron’s history in engineering as a foundation to build upon. So Knight funding for the city has involved arts and media projects and neighborhood development programs, but also projects to turn Akron into a “BioMedical Corridor.” The AIBA is intended to attract, retain and harness talent to boost the city.
The funding resembles a number of projects, including in Buffalo and Detroit, where government, industry and philanthropy have tried to reboot industrial economies with high-tech manufacturing and innovation.
Learn more about the community projects Knight supports here, and check out a sampling of IP coverage below.