Quinn to direct research agency Seeks ‘real impact’ on S.C. economy

The S.C. Research Authority’s offices are in the Nexton development in Summerville.

Robert Quinn has spent the last several years doing economic development work in faraway places, traveling often from his home in Summerville to Asia and the Middle East.

His new job will be much closer to home: Quinn will be the new executive director of the South Carolina Research Authority as the high- technology economic development agency undertakes its first leadership change in more than a decade.

Quinn, who has lived in the Lowcountry for more than a decade, comes to the state-chartered agency from the Ohio-based Battelle Memorial Institute, a large research-and-development nonprofit where he has worked for 26 years.

“This, I believe, allows me to have an opportunity to have a real impact on the economy of South Carolina,” Quinn said Monday. Most recently, Quinn has been in charge of commercializing technology — the process of taking promising research and finding ways to bring it to the market — for its subsidiary 360ip, which has offices across Asia.

Quinn previously worked as Battelle’s vice president of technology commercialization and oversaw similar efforts at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, the Tennessee facility best known for developing the atomic bomb and nuclear technology.

“Battelle, its subsidiary 360ip and its associated national laboratories are organizations that value the translation of technology for economic impact,” Brett Bosley, Battelle’s current vice president for technology commercialization, said in a statement. “Throughout his service at Battelle, Bob has contributed much through his expertise and leadership in technology commercialization.”

Quinn, who starts Aug. 1, will arrive at the agency as it redraws its organizational chart.

SCRA’s board decided earlier this month to separate its government contracting arm, known as Advanced Technology International, from the rest of the agency.

ATI oversees big government contracts — mostly for military projects — that use technology developed in South Carolina, and it provides much of the funding that keeps the agency running. It’ll continue to send money into SCRA’s coffers after the separation is complete, but officials worried that its work muddied the agency’s economic development focus.

Quinn will be tasked with navigating that transition and using his experience with commercializing technology to refresh the focus of the agency, which has a mandate to grow the state’s tech sector. Central to that work is helping researchers at the state’s public universities find markets for the technology they develop.

“Bob is a proven leader with substantial, relevant experience and quantifiable results,” SCRA board chairman Bill Blume said in a statement. “We look forward to leveraging his leadership skills to build upon existing relationships and cultivate high-tech job growth throughout the state.”

Quinn says he plans to focus on having universities communicate more with industry so that researchers can find a market for their work more easily and private companies don’t have to invest as much in research and development.

He’ll also oversee the agency’s efforts to grow tech startups in the state, including its S.C. Launch initiative, which has invested in more than 100 early-stage companies. Quinn said he’d like to see startups work more often with the state’s bigger, better-established companies and to attract more venture capital to South Carolina as its startups grow.

“I’ve been focusing on improving the economies of places like China and Abu Dhabi, and that’s been very rewarding,” Quinn said. “But I would find it far more rewarding to be able to apply those talents and apply those lessons learned for the betterment of the economy in a state that I’ve been in for 12 years now.”