DeLeo launches $2M research voucher program

  • Massachusetts House Speaker Robert DeLeo engages with ADDFab Director Dave Follette on his tour of some of the IALS Core Facilities at UMass Amherst. Submitted Photo—Bera Dunau

Sunday, April 15, 2018

AMHERST — The leader of the Massachusetts House swung by the state’s flagship university Friday morning to announce a $2 million voucher program that will make it easier for small- and medium-sized businesses to use the advanced research facilities the campus offers.

House Speaker Robert DeLeo toured the University of Massachusetts’ Institute for Advanced Life Sciences building, which houses some of the university’s more than 30 so-called core facilities equipped with sophisticated technologies that can be invaluable for industry.

The facilities contain such resources as human testing facilities, 3-D printers and high-powered microscopes. And although they are used by faculty and students, the core facilities are also used by and marketed to private industry.

“I love it,” said DeLeo, speaking to the Gazette, saying he was impressed with what is going on there.

The Innovation Voucher Program DeLeo announced involves $2 million worth of funding to offset some of the costs for private businesses to use laboratories and facilities across the five-campus UMass system. This will allow businesses with 10 or less employees to use the facilities at a 75 percent reduced cost, while those with 50 or less employees will be able to use the facilities at a 50 percent reduced cost.

“It will support local companies,” said DeLeo, who also noted that it will benefit students.

One of the businesses that is looking to take advantage of the voucher program is Peerless Precision, a Westfield precision manufacturer. Its president, Kristin Carlson, spoke at the event.

“This voucher program will be vital to my company,” she said.

Peerless recently agreed to become an additive manufacturing supplier to its biggest customer over the next five years. Additive manufacturing is another term for 3-D printing.

“To be able to start diving into that world before we can bring the technology into Peerless will give us a competitive ... advantage,” she said.

UMass President Marty Meehan joined DeLeo on the UMass campus. Meehan said DeLeo fundamentally gets how the Massachusetts economy works.

“He understands that we’re an innovation economy,” he said.

On the tour, DeLeo spoke about his dream of getting Massachusetts companies to stay in Massachusetts. He also spoke about his desire to encourage economic development in all parts of the state.

One of the stops on the tour was at the Advanced Digital Design and Fabrication lab, a core facility that contains high-end 3-D printers for additive manufacturing.

Dave Follette, the director of ADDFab, said that UMass is looking to educate students in the technology. UMass Amherst Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy also spoke about a program the university is looking to implement that would give people training in manufacturing technology like additive manufacturing without having to earn a four-year degree.

Rep. John Scibak, D-South Hadley, went on the tour with DeLeo, and indicated that he thinks the core facilities will have a positive impact on the local economy, in comments to the Gazette.

“If I’m a company, don’t I want to be here?” he said.

Bera Dunau can be reached at bdunau@gazettenet.com.