Idaho State University finds home for entrepreneur center

photo of ceed outreach center
The outreach center for Idaho State University’s Center for Entrepreneurial and Economic Development now has a home on Main Street in Pocatello. Photo courtesy of CEED

POCATELLO – COVID-19 put a crimp in the works, but Idaho State University’s Center for Entrepreneurship and Economic Development (CEED) is on track to open its outreach center when the university does, likely around June 1.

“We were scheduled to open it April 1,” said Jeff Street, professor in business and the director for CEED.

The group started looking for office space about five years ago for a variety of federally funded programs such as the Small Business Development Center, TechHelp and the Eastern Idaho Development Corp., as well as Bengal Solutions, a graduate assistant consultant group, Street said.

photo of jeff street
Jeff Street

CEED is a virtual umbrella organization, operating out of the College of Business, to reach out to the business community, Street said, while the other groups have their own reporting group. But there is synergy between them.

“So we looked to see if we could get some office space off-campus, and possibly incubate small business startups,” he said.

At one point, the organization had an offer of a large building from a Boise company that Street did not name. CEED was by then working with about eight small businesses, as well as one larger one that needed to expand into another location to make a new product.

“We believed we had space in that building for 30 tenants,” he said. “But you never want to fill them all up. You always want to have open space in case a company comes along that needs a quick home, so we were targeting 25 small businesses.”

But that building wasn’t suitable for a number of reasons, particularly the cost of operating and maintaining it, Street said. There were several other opportunities, but they all fell short.

“None of them were the space we were wanting,” he said. “We wanted to be high-visibility and visible to business.”

Then CEED was offered a space on Main Street in the Art Haus space, an artists’ incubator.

“It’s storefront space, just the right size for us to have an office for people to meet and me to hold office hours once a week,” Street said.

Once the outreach center opens, Street is still planning to look for incubator space, but instead of looking for one big building that would house all the small businesses as well as CEED itself, he’s likely to take a different tack.

The office still wants to be able to offer low-cost space to startups for three to five years until they reached the point where they could rent their own space.

“A business incubator strives to just break even,” Street said. “We haven’t been able to find the right landlord to understand that we need free space that allows these companies to come in and incubate.”

Consequently, Street has another model in mind, a decentralized incubator. Instead of having a large building — sort of a mini-mall for startups — the organization is looking for what it calls “back room space” in existing buildings in downtown Pocatello. Examples could include warehouse space that a storefront doesn’t need, or a back entry that could be used by non-retail businesses.

“Small manufacturing businesses or web page businesses could operate out of the back room of some buildings,” he said. “We’re working to identify that space with the Old Town Pocatello office to see if we could connect a startup business with that space. We would still offer our services — we would go to them, or they would come to us, but not in the same building.”

Exactly how many small businesses such spaces could incubate, Street wasn’t sure.

“First of all, we need to identify spaces that are available,” he said. “Hopefully, there’s 8-10 available in town.”

That would allow the organization to incubate seven or eight businesses, he said.

Idaho State University internships help employ graduates

photo of medman clinic
Intern MaKenna Little helped MedMan launch a new pediatrics practice. Photo courtesy of MedMan

POCATELLO – An internship program at Idaho State University (ISU) hopes to keep graduates in Idaho by preparing them for jobs.

The program, Career Path Internships (CPI), now in its 10th year, has provided more than 7,000 internships to students, according to Emily Jahsman, associate director of the college’s career center, which administers the program.

“Once organizations find out about the internship program, they try to keep doing it as much as they can,” Jahsman said. “It’s pretty frequent that, once they start, they keep trying to reapply and get interns again.”

One such company is MedMan, a practice management company.

“We focus on helping medical clinics run the way they should; everything from patient flow to the finances to the people that work there,” said Jesse Arnoldson, director of interim management of the Boise-based company, in an email message.

An ISU and CPI alumnus himself, Arnoldson approached the program to help the company add talent.

photo of jesse arnoldson
Jesse Arnoldson

“It can be a real struggle to hire someone right out of college,” Arnoldson said. “They usually lack the track record and experience we would be looking for. The CPI program allows us to ‘test drive’ these young professionals and help us build a pipeline of talent for when we have a position to fill.”

The company hired MaKenna Little, now in graduate school, for her third internship in the health sciences field.

“I love the aspects of practice management and have been always been wanting to end up in that area of the industry,” Little said. “This position has given me the opportunity to see how a practice is built from the ground up and all the different parts that come into play in order to open the doors. The CPI program is amazing for students like myself, because you are able to gain great experience from people who have already been around the block.”

The program has worked well for both the company and the students.

“We felt that it was such a benefit to MedMan and our clinics that we then invested in bringing on three more CPIs since then,” Arnoldson said. “We’ve hired one of them permanently and are hoping to do the same with MaKenna when she graduates.”

Program details

photo of emily jahsman
Emily Jahsman

The program started with 250 students and a budget of $300,000, and has grown steadily, Jahsman said. The Idaho Legislature now appropriates $500,000 toward the program annually as well, bringing the total to $2.3 million per year.

All internships are paid at $9 per hour at the bachelors level, $11 at the masters level and $13 for doctoral students, Jahsman said. Positions are a mix of on- and off-campus, with 150 off-campus positions last year. ISU pays students’ salaries no matter where the position is located.

Students who work in off-campus organizations have the opportunity to build their professional networks and are more likely to get hired after they finish their internship because by then they are a trained employee, Jahsman said.

“We’re trying to grow that portion of the program,” she added

Internships are available in all of the school’s colleges. For example, biology students could get positions in the Idaho Department of Fish and Game, while accounting students may get hired by accounting firms in Burley. Engineering students have been hired by the Idaho Transportation Department, while education students get hired by school districts to assist teachers as a pre-student teacher.

The advantage of the program is that it gives students an idea of what careers they want to pursue – or not.

“They get in there early and make sure that what they’re studying is what they’re passionate about,” Jahsman said.

The program also helps motivate students.

“Over the past eight years, there’s been a 13% higher retention for participants than non-participations,” she said. “I’m not claiming it’s the only cause, but I truly believe that engaging students in other ways than classroom helps them come back and persist.”

University collaboration could resurrect ‘higher education CEO’ proposal

photo of little and university presidents
Gov. Brad Little, left, led a panel discussion of four university presidents, all of whom have joined since April 2018. Photo by Sharon Fisher

New presidents of Idaho state universities, with an increased spirit of collaboration, could resurrect a several-year-old plan to consolidate some university services to save money.

On. Oct. 8, Gov. Brad Little led what he called a “fireside chat” among the presidents of Boise State University, Idaho State University and the University of Idaho, all of whom started their terms within the past year and a half. They were joined by the president of the College of Idaho, a private institution based in Caldwell. The event was held at JUMP as part of Boise Startup Week.

Joining Little were Marlene Tromp, named president of Boise State University in April; Kevin Satterlee, named president of Idaho State University in April 2018; C. Scott Green, named president of the University of Idaho in April and Jim Everett, named co-president of the College of Idaho in February 2018.

“Never in my professional career as an educator in Idaho did I think I would tag this many institutions TOGETHER on the stage,” wrote Mike Satz, executive officer and associate vice president, southwest region at University of Idaho, on Twitter. “Wow. I. Am. Impressed.”

Consolidating services

A number of Little’s questions touched on “collaboration” and “coordination.” He mentioned their developing curriculum that would allow students to transfer seamlessly from one university to another should their educational plans change.

“The people here are the ones who can get that done,” he said.

The discussion was reminiscent of a 2018 proposal by then-Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter to hire a so-called “higher education CEO” to look for efficiencies by integrating and combining services across institutions. Otter included a $769,500 line item for integration of higher education systems, including $500,000 for a contractor to study the issue.

That year, the idea didn’t get much traction, and while a bill to implement the regulation was printed by the Senate Education Committee, it was never addressed during the 2018 legislative session.

But while Little didn’t give any specifics, and deferred details to the State Board of Education – which would have controlled the “higher education CEO” appointment – he agreed that, with the new presidents, the idea could be revisited at some point in the future.

Otter’s effort cited two reports. First, the Task Force on Higher Education called in September 2017 for the higher education CEO as part of its report, as well as consolidating back-office functions from the universities.

Second, a report presented to the Idaho State Board of Education on Dec. 20 by Huron, a Chicago-based consulting firm, said that consolidation of services could save up to $38 million over the next 10 years, according to a press release. But the Legislature didn’t address the issue during the 2019 session.

In addition to collaborating on curriculum, the presidents talked about collaborating on issues such as cybersecurity education.

Education and entrepreneurship

More generally, the university presidents talked about the importance of education – particularly research – in the technology industry and for entrepreneurs. Tying education with business and industry makes students more employable, Satterlee said, while Tromp said that Boise State’s reputation for innovation was part of the reason she joined.

Another issue that arose was diversity, which has come under particular criticism at Boise State by some legislators. Diversity has always been a focus in Idaho, Everett said, noting that the College of Idaho has students from 88 countries joining the 60% of the student body from Idaho. Diversity builds innovation, and working with students from overseas helps Idaho students learn to work across cultures, he said.

Little noted that JUMP – built by the family of Idaho businessman J.R. Simplot after his death – was an example of the value of education. Though Simplot didn’t attend college himself, he considered education important, Little said.

Idaho State University receives $2 million from Albertson Foundation to expand CTE

photo of isu computerized machining program
Idaho State University’s computerized machining program, pictured here, has already moved to the Eames Complex. Photo courtesy of ISU.

The J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Foundation is donating $2 million to the Idaho State University College of Technology capital campaign to help renovate a building on the Pocatello campus in which to consolidate some of its career technical education (CTE) programs.

The 200,000-square-foot building is the William M. and Karin A. Eames Advanced Technical Education and Innovations Complex, named after the Eames made a $2.5 million donation. The capital campaign is a five-phase project for a total of $22 million, said Kevin Satterlee, named president of ISU in April after serving most recently as chief operating officer for Boise State University.

Scott Rasmussen

The College of Technology consists of about 35 departments, primarily CTE programs, though it does include programs such as nursing. Seven programs, with 250 to 300 students, will move to the Eames complex, said Dean Scott Rasmussen. Phase I moved two programs, machining and computer-aided design, to the building last summer.

Consolidating the seven programs will let ISU increase enrollment by 10 percent the first year, and an additional 10 to 15 percent the next three to five years, Rasmussen said. “Programs like welding have a waiting list of students to get in, and extremely high demand for graduates, making in excess of $60,000 to $70,000 a year,” he said.

The Albertson Foundation money will be contributed to the $5 million Phase III, to house the diesel technology program. “We’ve raised almost $3 million so far,” Rasmussen said. “Their $2 million would get us really, really close.”

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Roger Quarles

The Albertson Foundation was particularly interested in ISU because of its job placement rate of 90 percent and sometimes 100 percent, said Roger Quarles, executive director. “They have an ambitious goal of expanding programs we see value in: credentials, certificates, degrees, living-wage jobs – something we’re kind of passionate about,” he said. “They had a very solid plan of what they wanted to do.”

Quarles also praised ISU for its relationships with industry. “Each one of their 35 programs has an industry advisory committee that meets with the faculty on a fairly regular basis,” he said.

In addition to helping shape programming and the curriculum, such committees provide additional support with expertise on education and training, he said. “Our struggle is, how do you keep learning relevant to changes in the world,” he said. “We think they’re really good at that.”

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Kevin Satterlee

For other funding, ISU is asking the Idaho Legislature to allow it to spend $10 million originally allocated toward renovation of a life sciences building, which had been its top capital priority, Satterlee said. “An engineering study came back and determined that, at $10 million, it was not feasible, so we stopped moving forward,” he said. Renovation of the technology college building was the second priority, he said.

Consolidating the CTE programs in the one building also gives the university the opportunity to renovate the spaces where the CTE classes had been held previously for other programs. “Right now, we teach our licensed practical nurse and registered nurse nursing programs in two different places because of space needs,” Satterlee said. “We will be able to consolidate them into a single location because of the space that gets vacated.”

The building was originally used for startup research programs and other research opportunities, but that came to a close a year or so ago when the major grants funding it came to an end and not enough startups came along, Rasmussen said.

Unlike some Idaho regions such as the Treasure Valley, where CTE programs are primarily taught in community colleges, CTE programs have always been taught at ISU, Satterlee said. “We offer a range of programs from certificates all the way through a Ph.D. and advanced medical,” he said. “We perform that true comprehensive regional university function, where a student from all of those areas can come. We’re pretty proud of that.”

A word with Idaho State University President Arthur Vailas

Photo by Erika Sather-Smith
Photo by Erika Sather-Smith

Arthur Vailas, the president of Idaho State University, grew up the oldest of five boys in Manchester, N.H. His parents, Greek immigrants who struggled with English, made it clear to their sons that they were expected to be high academic achievers, and all five have been.

Vailas draws from those experiences when he talks about how Idahoans can improve the state’s education system and increase their own standard of living. It has to start at home, he says, with parents genuinely believing that education is important, and passing that belief on to their children.

Vailas is a biomedical researcher who has worked in academia all of his career, often closely with business. He served as vice president for research and intellectual property management for the University of Houston, and vice chancellor for research for the University of Houston system. He joined ISU as president in 2006.

ISU is set apart from others in the state by its location, in Pocatello, and by its emphasis on the health sciences. ISU awards an array of doctorates in areas including engineering and applied science, biology, nuclear science and engineering, applied physics, several areas of pharmacy, counseling, nursing, and education. It also has a medical residency program for physicians in training.

Idaho Business Review spent some time with Vailas when he was in Boise to deliver ISU’s budget presentation to state lawmakers in late January. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

For businesses, the most pressing issue in education is workforce preparation. What is ISU doing to respond to concerns that graduates’ skills don’t match the available jobs?

What we hear from the business community is about increased credentialing. You hear a lot about people earning certificates for certain skills, and people saying that there should be more associate degrees, and community college. Professional-technical education does a very good job with that, and we have a college of technology within ISU, and many of the folks who have worked in these businesses become faculty for these programs.

But for a lot of things, the degree requirements are increasing, so I don’t agree with the general statement that you don’t need the degree. We find the opposite. People need to be a little more detailed about what they are saying. We have a big center on energy because we’re near the Idaho National Laboratory, and the energy industry, for example, has a higher level of degree requirements for many jobs.

In fact, most of the university is dedicated to another level of skills, 34 percent of our degree programs are in health professions, and they all want bachelor’s degrees, master’s degrees, and even doctorates. With most of these health fields, such as nursing, a bachelor’s wasn’t required before. And now it is.

If we’re going to recruit technology companies to Idaho, we’re going to need more people with bachelor’s degrees or better.

Apprenticeships are being widely discussed these days.  Is ISU doing anything in this area?

We have a program called Career Path Internship Program where the student is mentored by a business within the institution, or by someone in the private sector. So the student gets a real-life experience based on their academic interest, and they see the relevance of what they are learning.

So when you finish Idaho State University, you not only get a credential but you also have somewhat of a portfolio, and that’s more attractive to an employer. It’s like an apprenticeship. It’s kind of interesting that we’re going back to a system used a couple hundred years ago.

Employers also say college graduates need more training in soft skills. What is ISU doing to address this?

In the Career Path Internship Program, our students are mentored by people with business experience. By the time they finish their education, they have had experience in the company and they learn what’s required in terms of people skills.

The liberal arts have a place in this. The University of Texas did a 10-year survey and found that of the liberal arts majors within that decade, a lot of them will end up in management positions.

Companies are looking for the communication skills. There’s a huge value in liberal arts, probably not right after you get out of school, but later on. I really don’t like the idea of focusing on just STEM; that’s all you hear about. I worry about producing the individual who can socialize, who can have an integrated vision, who is able to think independently and be an outstanding communicator. Liberal arts graduates bring quite a bit of value to the table in the business world. Everybody should get a pretty good liberal arts exposure, you should have a very good, flexible platform.

Is education headed in the right direction in Idaho?

I see it being positive but we still have a long way to go.

I think you’ll see an improvement in our K-12 school system, which has a huge effect on all of us. The biggest problem in education is cultural. People don’t value education to the extent they should.

How do you change that?

A lot of it is by asking, “How are you going to make a living?” It goes down to the family unit and the constant promotion of education. My parents never got an education, but boy did they talk about education. They said, “We don’t want you to be like us; we want you to have a future. And for that you need to go to school and you need to learn skills.”

They said, “You need to think about yourself 40 years from now, and how you see the world. You can’t survive like we did, barely surviving.” We need to have that cultural commitment. We went to school with the attitude that you need to learn how to compete, and that was reinforced at home.



Idaho public-private training grants could get another $5 million

Participants at an Idaho Department of Labor-funded log scaling course at the Stimson lumber mill in St. Maries in the spring of 2014. Photo courtesy of North Idaho College.
Participants at an Idaho Department of Labor-funded log scaling course at the Stimson lumber mill in St. Maries in the spring of 2014. Photo courtesy of North Idaho College.

Lawmakers will decide this year whether the Idaho Department of Labor should award an extra $5 million this year in Industry Sector Grants.

The grants offer money for college-level training for specific professions, as long as private companies pay for one quarter of the cost. The Labor Department has funded $1.8 million in grants in the past two years from the state’s unemployment tax. It is offering another $1 million in competitive grants; applications are due Feb. 2.

The added $5 million would come from the state’s general fund, which is raised with  state sales and income tax receipts. The one-time funding would increase the amount of money at the Labor Department’s disposal to address the state’s shortage of trained workers. According to the department, by 2022 the state will have 109,000 new jobs, but the labor force will grow by less than 14,000.

The added funding is also supported by the Idaho Department of Commerce. Commerce Director Jeff Sayer told lawmakers Jan. 29 that the state needs to increase professional-technical education for incoming workers.

Jeff Sayer
Jeff Sayer

“Right now, we are 95,000 workers short of fueling our economic growth,” Sayer said, referring to the Department of Labor’s projected shortfall.

Bob Fick, spokesman for the Labor Department, said the department can follow students and workers who participate in Industry Sector Grants to see where they land jobs, how much they earn and even if they remain in Idaho.

Each grant requires a university or community college partner, as well as at least three industry partners. Fick said having private businesses involved will cut down on waste, since businesses won’t spend money on programs they don’t need.

“The important thing about this versus other initiatives in this area is that business puts its money where its mouth is,” Fick said. “That’s what separates this from a lot of other economic development initiatives: there’s direct, real participation with businesses.”

Industry Sector Pilots

Tthe department gave out the first round of Industry Sector Grants in 2013. Boise State University got $1 million for its computer science program, with eight Boise technology companies contributing $310,768 for scholarships. Idaho State University received $532,180 for more physician assistant students in the Treasure Valley, and North Idaho College received money to train timber products workers.

Boise State is seeing increased growth in its computer science program, driven by the grant and other sources of funding. Tech companies for years have been calling for more money and more graduates.

“We have a massive shortage of computer scientists and engineers. It’s a major impediment to growth. Sixty-five percent of the software engineers in the southern part of the state had to be moved in,” said Bob Lokken, CEO of WhiteCloud Analytics.

ISU is adding more physician assistant students in the Treasure Valley, mirroring its program in Pocatello. The Industry Sector Grant allowed the school to add a cohort of 12 students this fall at the College of Idaho in Caldwell, in addition to the 30 who started this fall in Meridian.

David Talford, assistant clinical professor at Idaho State University, teaches a physician's assistant course. Photo courtesy of Idaho State University
David Talford (right), assistant clinical professor at Idaho State University, teaches a physician assistant course. Photo courtesy of Idaho State University

“These are very critical positions. They are high wage positions that add to the economy and are essential to the care of our population,” said Bessie Katsilometes, associate vice president for university programs at the ISU Meridian Health Science Center. The Labor Department grant for ISU is supported by St. Luke’s Health System, Saint Alphonsus Health System and Blue Cross of Idaho.

North Idaho College’s grant-funded program, called the Wood Products Manufacturing Center For Excellence, trains workers in three areas: operating and programming industrial controls for advanced manufacturing equipment, filing saws used to cut trees, and log scaling, the practice of measuring and grading cut lumber. The private-sector partners for the grant are three of the larger mill operators in northern Idaho, Idaho Forest Group, Potlatch Corp. and Stimson Lumber, which have a combined 11 mills and 1,100 employees.

Marie Price, NIC’s director for workforce training, said the companies have been working with the college for years on training efforts.

“The concern is bringing in individuals to replace the aging workforce as well as equipping their incumbent workers with skills for automation,” she said. NIC trained 40 workers in 2014 and has a goal of training 120 this year. Those trainings happen in NIC facilities, online and at mills.

Price said NIC won’t be applying for this February’s round of Industry Sector Grants, but she’s working to identify other industries that could use the program. The required 25 percent private-sector cash match is a barrier for some companies. Still,  she said, the grants are a “great tool in the tool belt for workforce and economic development to help build a skilled workforce.”

ISU is producing isotopes for medical researchers

The Idaho Accelerator Center at Idaho State University uses an electron linear accelerator (pictured) to  to produce the medical isotope copper-67, which has the potential to be more effective than chemotherapy or external radiation for the treatment of some cancers. Photo courtesy of Idaho State University.
The Idaho Accelerator Center at Idaho State University uses an electron linear accelerator (pictured) to to produce the medical isotope copper-67, which has the potential to be more effective than chemotherapy or external radiation for the treatment of some cancers. Photo courtesy of Idaho State University.

Idaho State University’s Idaho Accelerator Center has developed new accelerators that are now producing a steady supply of a potential cancer-fighting isotope to medical researchers. One of the leading researchers at ISU said that producing and selling the isotope, copper-67, could be a source of revenue for the Pocatello university and its private-sector partner, International Isotopes, though more research must be done. That research has been hindered by a lack of supply of copper-67.

“There is no place that is routinely making this particular isotope,” said Jon Stoner, director of technical operations at the Accelerator Center. “That’s been one of the problems with researchers starting up programs.”

ISU’s copper-67 is being produced on electron linear accelerators that the university uses just to produce isotopes. The university will be able to produce enough copper-67 to support human trials of the isotope. Stoner said early research suggests copper-67 could be used both for diagnostic purposes, helping medical staff see and understand cancers and tumors, as well as in therapy to fight or eliminate cancer. Stoner said most of the millions of medical procedures that use isotopes do so just for diagnostics.

Jon Stoner, director of technical operations at the Idaho Accelerator Center (left), and Howard Grimes, ISU's vice president for research and economic development, at the university's Idaho Accelerator Center. Photo courtesy of Idaho State University.
Jon Stoner, director of technical operations at the Idaho Accelerator Center (left), and Howard Grimes, ISU’s vice president for research and economic development, at the university’s Idaho Accelerator Center. Photo courtesy of Idaho State University.

The Idaho Accelerator Center has previously received funding from the Idaho Global Entrepreneurial Mission, a state-backed program to spur technology transfer between public universities and the private sector to create jobs and economic activity. The center now has 12 full-time staff working there as well as 10 students, who are studying applied physics and radiochemistry.

Stoner said that trials and drug certification mean it’s difficult to predict when copper-67 could become a more prevalent treatment option and a larger source of revenue for ISU and International Isotopes.

“We know it’s going to be a number of years until the program grows dramatically,” he said. Stoner said the Accelerator Center is also working on producing other isotopes and that copper-67 is just the beginning. “This is part of a continuum of research for the university.”