Western Carolina University will receive a five-year Investment Award totaling $642,960 from the Economic Development Administration of the federal government to continue operation of the EDA University Center for Rapid Product Realization, which works to accelerate job creation and retention among existing businesses and emerging entrepreneurial enterprises in Western North Carolina.
Through the work of the EDA University Center, WCU’s Center for Rapid Product Realization collaborates with the university’s Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation and its Small Business and Technology Development Center to support regional commercialization of products and processes and to help develop the regional workforce through industry-sponsored faculty/student projects, said James Zhang, interim dean of WCU’s Kimmel School of Construction Management and Technology.
The EDA University Center links clients to a range of services, including three-dimensional design and scanning, reverse engineering, rapid prototyping and mechanical and electrical testing at the Rapid Center; business assistance from the SBTDC; and consulting and entrepreneurial mentoring from the Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation.
The EDA University Center is located in WCU’s Belk Building alongside the Center for Rapid Product Realization. The EDA funding will be used to support existing positions as the university contributes faculty resources, equipment and laboratory space to the project, Zhang said.
“Student/faculty teams working with companies and entrepreneurs and aided by the University Center’s resources fits perfectly with the Kimmel School’s concentration on project-based learning and the SBTDC’s mission to leverage university resources to provide quality assistance to the business community,” Zhang said. “These projects also provide superb learning experiences for students, imbuing them with the culture of innovation, a critical need for the region.”
WCU received funding from the EDA’s University Center Economic Development Program each of the last three years to provide services to regional businesses. The university applied this year for a five-year award and won it on a “very competitive basis,” Zhang said.
The EDA offers the program to assist institutions of higher education in leveraging university assets to build regional economic ecosystems that support high-growth entrepreneurship.
U.S. Rep. Heath Shuler said the partnership between WCU and the EDA “exemplifies the value of public-private partnerships.”
“For a minimal investment by the federal government, WCU is able to develop critical skill sets among its students and support the regional and state economy through product development and entrepreneurship,” Shuler said. “This leveraging of resources produces a strong return on investment and we are fortunate to have this program right here at home.”
For more information about the EDA University Center program at WCU, contact Zhang at 828-227-2159 or firstname.lastname@example.org.