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SBA Honors UW's Gern for Small-Business Efforts

January 12, 2017
Bill Gern

Recognizing his efforts to boost small business development in Wyoming for more than two decades, the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) has given one of its highest honors to University of Wyoming Vice President for Research and Economic Development Bill Gern.

Gern received a 2016 Tibbetts Award Tuesday at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building in Washington, D.C., for his unique contributions to the SBA’s Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) programs.

“Many of the SBIR/STTR successes under the direction of Dr. Gern have brought about positive economic impact in Wyoming, providing jobs and opportunities across the state,” the SBA awards publication states. “Under Dr. Gern’s leadership, the University of Wyoming has been following a three-pronged approach: Grow the research enterprise, harvest technology, and support the creation and growth of technology-related businesses while supporting existing small businesses in Wyoming.”

Named for Roland Tibbetts, the acknowledged father of the SBIR program, the prestigious Tibbetts Awards recognize individuals, organizations, firms or projects that made a visible technological impact on the socio-economic front and exemplify the best in SBIR achievements. Award winners are selected based on the economic impact of their technological innovation and the extent to which that innovation served federal research and development needs; encouraged diverse participation; and increased the commercialization of federal research.

Gern founded the Wyoming SBIR/STTR Initiative (WSSI) in 1996. Shortly thereafter, he created the WSSI Phase 0 Program, the first of its kind in the state and one of the first in the nation. It has become a model for programs across the nation.

During the first year of operation, WSSI helped Wyoming small businesses secure more SBIR/STTR awards than the previous 13 years combined. In all, the awards secured since the start of WSSI have totaled more than $54 million, resulting in UW submitting 633 patent applications while creating numerous spinoff technology companies using UW-licensed technologies.

Gern also initiated UW’s Wyoming Technology Business Center incubator system, helping SBIR/STTR companies achieve growth and commercial success. His work with WSSI has made Wyoming one of the fastest-growing states in terms of high-tech startup activity.

Economic development programs under Gern’s direction have generated nearly $750 million in capital impact and 20,000 new jobs in the last 20 years. The Laramie community alone has gone from being home to six tech firms in 2000 to more than 60 at present.

“Bill Gern is one of the best strategic thinkers and planners I have ever met. His vision for ever improving research and continuing economic development in our state has been far-reaching and tremendously effective,” says David Walrath, emeritus UW professor of mechanical engineering and interim director of Wyoming’s Manufacturing-Works center. “His vision and leadership have helped foster a climate where research and entrepreneurship can grow and flourish in our state.”

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