Campus News

Rick Gardner to lead UB’s economic development efforts


Published December 22, 2021

headshot of Rick Gardner.

Rick Gardner

Rick Gardner, a senior product development and management executive who oversees startup ventures at UB, will become the university's new associate vice president for economic development.

The appointment, effective Jan. 24, was announced Tuesday by Venu Govindaraju, PhD, vice president for research and economic development.

Gardner will replace Christina Orsi, who held the role for nearly seven years and was recently named president of the John R. Oishei Foundation.

With more than two decades of experience in the public, private, nonprofit and startup sectors, Gardner has been an innovator throughout his career. He holds 32 U.S. patents and has taken dozens of products to market.

He brings a diverse skill set to the role, which has taken on increased prominence in the last decade as UB’s economic footprint and entrepreneurial activities, including growing the infrastructure and support services needed to commercialize faculty research and advance startups, have helped drive Buffalo’s resurgent economy.

“We are incredibly pleased to have Rick lead the University at Buffalo’s economic development enterprise,” said Govindaraju. “He brings to UB an exceptional amount of experience that will help the university continue to grow relationships among its faculty researchers and the business community — an effort that will drive the future of the region’s economy.”

In the new role, Gardner will oversee university-wide economic development efforts. He will lead the university’s Business and Entrepreneur Partnerships office, which serves as the connection point between the region’s best innovations and the university’s resources.

The office works to drive collaborative partnerships with companies of all sizes to accelerate growth, build innovative teams, solve challenges and bring new products to market. It connects businesses and other community partners with UB researchers and resources, including breakthrough research and development, the university's incubators and incubation programs, world-class experts, new technologies, a diverse talent pipeline, high-tech equipment and facilities, entrepreneurial support, and workforce development training.

Gardner will lead multiple state-funded grant programs such as the Buffalo Institute for Genomics & Data Analytics (BIG), which supports the region’s life sciences industry; Innovation Hub, a $32 million initiative to support entrepreneurism on the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus that includes UB’s new downtown incubator; and the Western New York Incubator Network.

He’ll also work directly with the UB Center of Excellence in Materials Informatics (CMI), the UB Center of Excellence in Bioinformatics and Life Sciences (CBLS), and Center for Advanced Technology in Big Data and Health Sciences (UB CAT).

“This is a tremendous opportunity to leverage the University at Buffalo’s strengths —from world-class faculty research and entrepreneurial students to excellent academic programs and cutting-edge facilities — to further the Buffalo Niagara region’s economic revitalization. I’m incredibly excited to build upon UB’s successes and help bring more opportunities, investors and talent to the area,” said Gardner.

Since March 2020, Gardner has served as director of startup ventures in Business and Entrepreneur Partnerships. In this role, he oversees university efforts to grow the startup community. This includes working with early-stage startups by providing expert coaching, guidance and mentorship from experienced entrepreneurs, as well as incubation space, early-stage funding and connections to the region’s entrepreneurial ecosystem and investors.

Prior to coming to UB, Gardner was chief product officer of SunPath, a Colorado-based solar lighting technology startup. Before that, he served as president and general manager of EWI Colorado. Previously known as Edison Welding Institute, EWI is a nonprofit engineering and technology organization based in Columbus, Ohio. It operates Buffalo Manufacturing Works.

He has held senior leadership positions at minuteKEY, an automation startup based in Colorado, and Pelco, a video, imaging and software technologies company. He also worked as an engineering manager at Agilent Technologies, and as a research and development engineer at HP Inc. (the former Hewlett-Packard Company) and Lockheed Martin.

He earned a BS in mechanical engineering at Colorado State University.