The moves making Columbus a tech leader of tomorrow
Recent developments are alerting the world to what Buckeyes already know: Central Ohio is not flyover country.
In news that made national headlines in January, Intel announced plans to invest more than $20 billion in the construction of two new semiconductor chip factories about 25 miles northeast of Ohio State’s Columbus campus.
The initial phase of the project near New Albany is expected to support 3,000 Intel jobs and 7,000 construction jobs as well as tens of thousands more positions across an emerging network of service, materials and equipment suppliers. The plants are slated to begin producing chips, currently in short supply around the globe, in 2025.
While news outlets heralded the unlikely victory of Central Ohio as a dark-horse candidate, Intel’s decision to invest in Columbus came as no surprise to those familiar with the region and its potential. They point to a low cost of living; central location; young, skilled workforce; and long list of public- and private-sector partners dedicated to building a robust community of innovators and entrepreneurs.
As Ohio State President Kristina M. Johnson affirmed at Intel’s announcement event, the university is playing an indispensable role in expanding this ecosystem by educating skilled workers, conducting leading-edge research and supporting innovation.
“[The Intel project] cements Ohio as a top magnet for retaining and attracting a new generation of talent,” Johnson says. “It builds on numerous opportunities under development within our state’s colleges and universities, including at Ohio’s innovation districts.”
To her point, Ohio State’s Innovation District on West Campus is quickly taking shape.
“Ohio State — and, by extension, Columbus — has the potential to become a major tech hub, but that all hinges on our ability to attract entrepreneurial talent and capacity,” says Grace Wang, the university’s executive vice president for research, innovation and knowledge. “Our vision for the Innovation District is to build a dynamic, energizing environment that attracts top talent.”
The Innovation District will accommodate hundreds of students, researchers, Fortune 500 businesses and new startups in one hive of activity. Starting in summer 2023, three new centers will open in rapid succession: the Interdisciplinary Research Facility, the Energy Advancement and Innovation Center, and Wexner Medical Center Outpatient Care West Campus.
From engineering nanoparticles that kill cancer cells to pioneering next-generation clean energy systems, projects planned for these spaces aim to attract visionary students, researchers and founders from around the world. Wang predicts the most beneficial chaos imaginable.
“If you think about the process of innovation, it’s intrinsically chaotic,” she says. “Startup founders need to work with many stakeholders to succeed. The more stakeholders we gather in this ecosystem, the more ideas will take root. That’s how you build a community of entrepreneurs. And over time, that’s how you transform a region into a tech hub.”
While the Innovation District won’t be up and running for another year, Ohio State already offers a broad range of support for entrepreneurial students, faculty and alumni through its Keenan Center for Entrepreneurship. Established in early 2020 with support from Tim Keenan ’80 and his wife, Kathleen, the Keenan Center consolidated entrepreneurial activities under one roof.
This spring, the newly created President’s Buckeye Accelerator will award $50,000 to six student-run startups to build and test commercial ventures over the course of a year. Many of the first applicants already have pitched their ideas in the center’s Best of Student Startups competition or networked with more experienced counterparts through the Buckeye Venture Mentor Service.
In addition, alumni and friends soon will have the opportunity to directly support entrepreneurs within the university ecosystem. Keenan Center Director Cheryl Turnbull says the new Alumni Angel Network will allow accredited investors to invest in ventures affiliated with Ohio State founders. “The process of growing and nurturing entrepreneurship at Ohio State continues to accelerate,” Turnbull says. “It’s exciting to see such a dynamic ecosystem emerge. Columbus, already nationally known for its innovation, is becoming a powerhouse for entrepreneurship as well.”