Sept. 19--SAN MARCOS -- David Irvin stood in the small lab and carefully weighed a white powder that could hold the key to boosting the energy of Air Force jet fuel. The chemical breakthrough might have remained just a concept if Irvin didn't have access to highly coveted, high-tech lab space and experts at Texas State University to help start-up firms like his get cutting edge ideas off the ground.
The university opened the STAR Park -- the acronym stands for science, technology and advanced research -- less than a year ago, and the $7 million, 14,000-square-foot technology incubator is nearly full. Texas State officials, who hope the facility will put the university on the map as a technology innovator, already are planning to more than double that footprint with an $8 million expansion.
That expansion, which would add an additional 22,000 square feet, is planned to open within the next two years. Other additions are planned for the 38-acre site over the next two decades, as the demand and the financing surface. University officials are negotiating with various entities to help fund the next expansion, but declined to provide details.
"We want to create a critical mass that makes the region attractive to technology companies," said STAR Park director Stephen Frayser. "It may not be natural to think of Texas State first, but we have a tremendous amount of things going on here, and the place is really poised to take off."
Situated between Austin and San Antonio, San Marcos might be positioned as a new technology growth area because of available land, affordable housing and easy access to several universities and other technology companies, Frayser said. Staff members at STAR Park companies said that Texas State has some of the best facilities in the nation for materials science, with cutting edge equipment and one of the few remaining university foundries in the country, where metallurgists can develop specialized tools, materials and equipment.
The STAR Park leases space to four firms. They get full use of wet labs, which include specialized ventilation, drainage and other systems that aren't readily available for rent, as well as access to Texas State professors, specialized equipment worth millions of dollars and a waiting troop of undergraduate, master's and doctoral students to hire as interns and employees.
Irvin's company, Systems and Materials Research Corp., for example, uses university equipment, consults with a Texas State chemistry professor and has hired several of the university's recent graduates.
The university, in turn, is able to attract better students and faculty. In an era of stagnant federal research dollars, the university is getting paid for research and development through this avenue. Professors are hired as consultants, and the university can negotiate for royalties and licensing rights on some inventions developed at the STAR Park. The partnership with these companies exposes students and professors to cutting edge research with real world applications, Frayser said.