KU Innovation Park receives nearly $1 million federal grant, hopes to receive word on $50M grant this summer

photo by: Austin Hornbostel/Journal-World

Sen. Jerry Moran greets guests during an appearance at the University of Kansas Innovation Park Thursday, April 21, 2022.

A project to make KU’s West Campus a larger center for pharmaceutical and technology companies received almost $1 million in additional funding on Thursday.

The University of Kansas’ Innovation Park project received a $957,500 grant through the federal Small Business Administration to add a small-scale pharmaceutical manufacturing facility to a technology incubator building that is under construction on West Campus.

U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., was on the KU campus Thursday afternoon to announce the grant award, and said that the KU Innovation Park project can play a significant role in helping the state attract higher-paying, faster-growing technology and medical companies.

“My view is Austin is filled up or filling up,” Moran said of the Texas tech hub. “Nashville is packed, Silicon Valley is someplace in California. People are looking for us and I would indicate that Lawrence is a natural location for the kind of things we are talking about.

“I’ve told you that I want to create opportunities for people who like science, mathematics and engineering. A lot of that is going to take place in northeast Kansas, and Lawrence can be the center of that activity.”

The grant announcement is the second major award for Innovation Park this month. Last week, Kansas officials announced Innovation Park will receive $5 million in infrastructure grant money to help complete the technology building that is currently under construction, and to do design work for future buildings that could be built on West Campus.

By 2024, KU intends to build two new research buildings — each totaling about $30 million — to attract a variety of researchers and businesses that want to use that research. One building would house what KU is calling the Kansas National Security Innovation Center, which would focus on research related to cybersecurity and other innovations that could be used by the homeland security or defense industries. A second building would house the Kansas Bio-Innovation & Sustainability Center, which would focus on research related to green energy and a host of environmental issues, among other topics.

In addition, KU envisions multiple other buildings being part of the Innovation Park project, including large buildings that would place university research space and private office space for corporations under the same roof. Over the next 15 years, KU envisions 10 buildings in the park that would provide 800,000 square feet of research, laboratory and office space.

On Thursday afternoon, KU leaders said they are expecting the state to make a decision this summer on an even larger grant application. Innovation Park has applied for a $50.8 million grant through the state of Kansas’ SPARK program, which is funded through federal pandemic relief funds.

KU Chancellor Douglas Girod, in a brief interview with the Journal-World, said state leaders have indicated a decision on SPARK grants could come in June. He said that KU officials had put together a strong grant application, but that the SPARK grant process would be highly competitive.

“They received requests for about three times the amount of money they have to grant,” Girod said.

KU leaders are touting that the $50 million in SPARK funding could be leveraged to create millions of dollars of additional investment on KU’s West Campus. The $50 million in SPARK funds would allow for the construction of the two new research buildings. But LaVerne Epp, executive chair of KU Innovation Park, said an important point is that those two new buildings will generate significant income streams through leases and other agreements with companies that would use the buildings. Those income streams then would be used to complete other projects in Innovation Park, growing the enterprise significantly.

“The grant really would be transformative for us,” Epp said.


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