Research and Business Growth Envisioned at UMaine Wood Composites Center

Contact: Contact: Habib Dagher, Advanced Engineered Wood Composites Center, 207-581-2138; Nick Houtman, Dept. of Public Affairs, 207-581-3777

ORONO, Maine — The Advanced Engineered Wood Composites (AEWC) Center at the University of Maine will expand its research laboratories, add a small conference facility and provide space for a new student entrepreneurship program as a result of bond funds approved by the voters June 10.

“The voters overwhelmingly support job creation. They have given us a tremendous opportunity,” says Habib Dagher, AEWC director, “but with it comes a clear responsibility to create research and development jobs and generate spin-off businesses. We intend to make sure that every penny spent is directly related to job creation in Maine.”

Key to fulfilling that goal is a proposed AEWC Center for Student Innovation and Entrepreneurship. More than 100 students from 12 different academic departments work every year at the AEWC with support from research grants and contracts. The new center will provide office space for students from business, engineering, forestry and other disciplines to tackle development projects with support from business specialists.

“Students will work in teams driven by projects funded by government agencies and industry,” says Dagher. “They will be involved in product research, but they will also have seminars on writing business plans, going out to find venture capital and protecting intellectual property. We will bring in external business development advisors to work with them. When they graduate, we want them to have the resources at hand to start a business.

“We are turning the normal undergraduate educational process upside down,” he adds. “Courses focus by necessity on discrete areas of knowledge. In this new center, we’ll be putting those pieces back together because in the real world, people have to combine skills in many areas to do a job.”

As currently envisioned, the program would allow students working in the center to receive a paycheck through grants and contracts. By focusing on solutions to real problems, students would add significant experience to their resumes, says Dagher, with the hope that many would find jobs or start new businesses in Maine.

“These students will be well prepared to stay in Maine and generate new economic activity here,” he adds.

The proposed center will occupy a one-story addition on the north side of the current AEWC Center. On the west side, bond funds will be used to construct a one-story conference center and a two-story addition for laboratories and office space to house new research and development positions. The new laboratories will allow UMaine to better compete for grants and contracts from industries and federal agencies.

In the past three years, the AEWC has successfully competed for more than $23 million in research contracts from outside the state, returning $7 for every $1 invested by the university. The AEWC has created 25 full-time and 100 part-time jobs.

WBRC Architects/Engineers of Bangor has produced a concept study for the building project. Dagher expects design work to proceed this year. Construction could begin in 2004.