Document Type


Publication Date


Research Center

Center for Economic Development


Since their initial development in the late 1990s, expert web portals have been an evolving tool for universities, systems of higher education, and economic development organizations. The web portals are searchable, web-based databases of university scholars and researchers that feature, at a minimum, information on their expertise, innovation products and publications. Many of the portals are growing to include information on universities’ physical assets and equipment, regional strengths, and additional services such as networking and analytical tools for research.

Although these searchable databases have proven useful in helping economic development leaders, government, research colleagues, and internal university staff, their role in generating industry-university collaboration is disputable. Recently, more demonstrable and tangible results of deploying innovation and building partnerships from these portals are becoming a sought-after objective for funders and stakeholders. However, none of the portals’ administrative teams have been able to specifically measure the impact of interaction generated via the portal on industry or the regional economy at large. Developing and sustaining these tools is costly and time consuming; instead, many stakeholders involved deem them a necessary public good – a “non-rivalrous" and "non-excludable” knowledge resource that everyone can consume with no restrictions. Therefore, evaluation of the return on investment of these portals has been largely ignored by involved parties. This, along with the cost of developing and maintaining such portals, serves as a growing obstacle to sustaining them. It has been argued that unless these portals are specifically designed with industry in mind, they do very little for commercial users.

This report is a summary of the results of a study assessing best practices and challenges facing existing web portals created to promote university resources to a broader audience. It intends to inform interested parties in Ohio about the ecosystems that surround existing web portals in other states. The report analyzes ecologies of existing web portals in other states, addresses the role of “super users” (i.e. organizations that can reach industry users, such as economic development agencies) play in enhancing the successful utilization of a web portal, and considers sustainable funding and training mechanisms surrounding existing web portals.

This study was conducted by researchers from the Center for Economic Development at the Maxine Goodman Levin College of Urban Affairs at Cleveland State University. The research was funded by the Ohio Manufacturing Institute of Ohio State University through an Ohio Development Services Agency grant and with input from the Ohio Department of Higher Education Ohio Innovation Exchange industry engagement team.

The study is based on a review of the latest academic literature concerning university-industry relationships, applied and technical reports provided by relevant web portals, and extensive interviews with selected portals’ managing teams. Additionally, the report provides a methodology, summarizes lessons learned, and illustrates a detailed description of seven web portals: Florida ExpertNet, Michigan MCRN, New York FuzeHub, North Carolina ReachNC, Texas InFluuent, Arizona Experts, and University of California’s Technology Transfer. The report concludes with recommendations for developing Innovation Exchange Hub in Ohio and Appendices detailing the literature review.