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Cal Poly’s Bradford Anderson looks out for students, tech opportunities

Associate dean of business strives to create local jobs through partnerships between university and private firms

nwilson@thetribunenews.comMay 8, 2014 

Bradford Anderson is Cal Poly's interim vice president of research and economic development.

JOE JOHNSTON — jjohnston@thetribunenews.com Buy Photo

A key player at Cal Poly, Bradford Anderson helps develop the university’s business offshoots and, by extension, grow economic development throughout California. He also has a hand in the university’s Tech Park that helps spawn startup businesses.

He meets with representatives from private companies about potential for partnerships, research and investment opportunities connected with Cal Poly.

Recent university-related enterprises have ranged from agricultural innovations such as milk protein extraction to new methods of producing carbon nanotubes, which are stronger and lighter than steel.

Anderson, who serves as interim vice president of economic research and development at Cal Poly, is also a finalist for the permanent position. The university’s decision on the search was still pending as of April 9.

His goals include rapid growth of startup businesses that begin at Cal Poly’s Tech Park, expansion in innovative fields including the university’s new cybersecurity program, and creation of more local head-of-household jobs.

Q: How did you end up at Cal Poly?

A: My wife (Sharon Takata Anderson) got her undergraduate degree from Cal Poly in computer science. Like most people that go to Cal Poly, they have this affinity to want to return. She said, “Boy, it would be really great to move to that area, and I would like to work at Cal Poly someday.” And I said, “Well, it seems like a great place. I’d like to work there someday, too.” So, we moved down here in 2004. My first position was over at Cuesta College as executive director of human resources and labor relations counsel. She was working at the county at the time. Eventually, opportunities arose where we both ended up here at Cal Poly (Sharon now is director of administrative computing services within Cal Poly’s Information Technology Services Department).

Q: What do you enjoy most about the work you’re doing?

A: The interim vice president position hearkens me back to my days in Silicon Valley. We’re moving very rapidly on some tremendously intriguing research technologies and opportunities.

It’s an opportunity for me to be intellectually engaged. And what I savor the most is interaction with the students. I still get to work with the students and teach classes, and it’s just tremendously rewarding. I think you’ll get that from every faculty and staff member. Why are you here? The students. We’re all here for the students.

Q: What are some of the innovative developments taking place at Cal Poly that foster relationships with industries, particularly new industries?

A: If you look at the Tech Park (which rents office space for budding technology-based businesses, encouraging collaboration with Cal Poly students and faculty), it’s not just high-tech applications.

There is food supplement activity going on with one of the tenants there that’s related to animal nutrition. It brings in the nutrition side, the animal science side of the house, the chemistry side and understanding the chemical aspects of it, and then the measurement and monitoring of performance in the animals. So, that’s a good example that the vision is not limited by any means to high tech.

The partnership agreement that Cal Poly has with the California Strawberry Commission is another. Clearly, there are some high-tech components on how do you better handle and package the strawberries.

Q: What other research is helping to create business growth?

A: There’s research right now at Cal Poly on battery technologies and improved energy storage technologies that would facilitate electric motors, and not just electric motors in automobiles but potentially electric powering of aircraft.

Cybersecurity is another area we’re working on here — including protection of power grids. When we talk to our various cybersecurity experts on campus and we look at the grant-funded opportunities that they’re applying for, cybersecurity impacts everything. A terrorist organization could try to take down the power grid, they could try to infect the food supply and the water supply. How do you monitor, measure and protect these things?

Q: What might help Cal Poly improve its ties to the tech industry and attract venture capital?

A: We have to address very specific research needs that the private sector is interested in funding. We have to make sure our research is applied research. It’s great to do pure, scholarly intrigue sorts of research. You can discover a lot of new things, and there’s a role for that. But there’s also a critical role for solving a clearly delineated, specific problem. That’s where we play a critical role.

Q: How is the climate for obtaining grant and research funding?

A: The tremendous work that Cal Poly President Jeff Armstrong and Provost Kathleen Enz Finken have done in continuing to develop, build and clarify our mission, our role and our goals has helped the environment. They can clearly enunciate the vision and bring faculty that can enunciate the relevancy of their activities.

I wouldn’t say the economic environment has made a big difference, but the continued refinement of being able to articulate our vision and being able to capitalize on and reach out to our tremendous intellectual assets — meaning our faculty, staff and students — really has helped.

And our grants-based development office is extremely competitive. We go head-to-head against players that I have tremendous respect for, key universities out there with great faculty, and we’re getting funding. We’re competing by demonstrating success.

Q: What challenges do you see with economic growth in San Luis Obispo County?

A: The headwind we face as a county is an extremely high cost of living that is influenced significantly by a lot of people who don’t live and work here. They’re capable of spending massive amounts of wealth to drive up the cost of housing.

The jobs and opportunities we create need to facilitate head-of-household positions. You need individuals to have one job. You don’t want them to have to go to work and then have a second job as a server on the weekends. That’s not good for them. That’s not good for their families. We really take very seriously the undercurrent of being able to provide a significant wage to single-family households.

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