The Joint School of Nanoscience and Nanoengineering of N.C. A&T and UNCG announced Wednesday the establishment of a Nanomanufacturing Innovation Consortium that aims to be a global leader in research and education as well as a driver of local economic development.

NIC provides access to unique capabilities for product development, materials testing, analysis and evaluation to address the diverse needs of consortium members. Members gain insight into JSNN’s ongoing research in nanobiology, nanomaterials and cleanroom technologies, and access to JSNN’s state-of-the-art research and education facility at Gateway University Research Park in Greensboro.

JSNN’s goal is to support economic growth throughout the region. And NIC appears to be working well already.

Miles Wright drove from Research Triangle Park for Wednesday’s announcement, telling the crowd gathered at JSNN that the consortium is an “unbelievable” opportunity for Xanofi, the nanotech company he started 2 ½ years ago in RTP.

“It provides access to expensive equipment that a small company would never, ever have access to,“ Wright said. “Instead of having to pay an outside firm or university to do lab work for you, with the proper training I can walk in and, at a much-reduced cost, I can do it myself — prepare my sample and see the things that I want. And there’s a huge advantage to that. It is not just having access, it’s sitting in the driver’s seat.”

When Wright found out about the consortium, he decided to hire a PhD to drive his company’s life science projects, bringing the number of Xanofi employees to 12.

“We have two pending life science products that we are working on. Knowing that this facility was going to be available to use, it made me start thinking that I need the resources to drive it — a quarterback for our life sciences…,” he said. “So you could say that Xanifi created the first job from this consortium. The launch of this consortium will drive jobs.”

Wright said the community of faculty and students at JSNN is another plus for Xanifi. “They want to work on projects. If I’m a huge corporation, I have a lot of people who can do project work, but if I am a start-up, having an extra set of hands or two creates a mutual benefit. Students get to work on real-world projects, and the outside company has a cost-effective means of getting lab work done. “

Companies that have joined the consortium range from Xanofi to Syngenta, a leading agriculture company with 27,000 employees worldwide and six global research centers. Other charter members include RF Micro Devices, VF Jeanswear, Evonik, DIGITALoptics, Schneider Mills/Premiere Fibers, Glen Raven and Engineered BioPharmaceuticals. NIC also has attracted several local organizations, including the Joseph M. Bryan Foundation, Cemala Foundation, Weaver Foundation, Tannenbaum-Sternberger Foundation, Womble Carlyle Sandridge & Rice and Stearns Financial Group.

“The development of strong industry relationships is critical for the Joint School of Nanoscience and Nanoengineering to be a leader in nano-related research and education, and to help with local economic development,” said James G. Ryan, founding dean of JSNN. “JSNN has already benefited from the leadership and vision of member companies, and we look forward to continuing our collaboration.”

The consortium enables businesses and organizations to take advantage of research, equipment and facilities that will immediately help their “bottom line” while also offering strategic opportunities in technology development, said UNCG Chancellor Linda P. Brady.

“At UNCG, we are redefining the traditional definitions of community engagement and economic development because we know that one cannot thrive without the other,” Brady said. “Together, they serve as parallel mechanisms to create and sustain healthy, safe and vibrant communities. NIC is the perfect example of this value.”

A&T Chancellor Harold L. Martin Sr. said JSNN’s NIC program is another great opportunity for industry leaders and universities to connect manufacturers to cutting-edge resources and build the momentum for transformative research and discovery.

“Now more than ever, colleges and universities must address existing employment gaps — specifically in STEM fields. N.C. A&T places a strong emphasis on producing highly skilled, industry-ready graduates who can strengthen the workforce,” Martin said. “This strategic alliance is yet another way for public-private partnerships to yield innovation, patents, spin-off companies and technology transfer that allows the universities to continue driving economic development in our region.”

John Merrill, executive director of Gateway University Research Park, said, “The creation of the NIC is an excellent example of Gateway’s efforts to be a catalyst for university research, innovation, and economic development. Gateway is pleased to support the NIC and we look forward to exciting possibilities that may develop from these ongoing activities.”

Already those exciting possibilities are starting to develop. That became clear at the gathering on Wednesday, when Wright met executives from Engineered BioPharmaceuticals, a firm based in Danville, Va., that was the first to join the consortium.

“We started talking. We’ve got a project, a specific problem of getting a protein in a dry powderized form,” Wright said. “Well guess what? Their company has the technology that might solve that problem. Next week I am sending them some material, they are going to test it to see if we can together come up with a solution for a multi-million-dollar, household name company. We talked about the science of this, and there is a reasonable chance it might work.

“That’s the power of a facility like JSNN.”