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I reported today on the explosive growth of the University of Rochester. The college has surpassed 20,000 workers for the first time and foresees adding 500 workers a year. The U of R’s impact on the regional economy is huge. In 2010, CGR estimated 47,000 direct and indirect jobs paying $2.3 billion in wages.

I visited iCardiac to show an example of a U of R spinoff company. Local leaders would like to see many such companies, but cofounder Sasha Latypova said there are two big barriers.

“The community needs to grow more entrepreneurs. The community needs to attract more people who are like us,” she said. “We may not be engineers, researchers or clinicians, but people who understand technology, are not afraid of it and can ‘productize’ things.”

I was surprised to find out Latypova and her partners are not scientists. They’re business people. “Steve Jobs didn’t know how to code,” she told me. She said Rochester needs more people who can envision the market potential of U of R’s research.

The other barrier to creating more spinoff companies is money. Latypova said access to venture capital is extremely difficult in Rochester. It’s tough to bridge the “Valley of Death.”

“They also have to think new ways of bridging the gap between research science and commercial products,” said Latypova.

iCardiac has 50 workers. Can you imagine what could happen if dozens and dozens of U of R startups emerge? What if a few of them end up employing hundreds of workers?

CGR’s Kent Garnder ultimately envisions some kind of “Research Triangle,” similar to the one in North Carolina. He said if the U of R and RIT can cover the geographical distance between them, the sky’s the limit.

Gardner and U of R officials believe the 390 Interchange project would help facilitate such a “research triangle.”

On a related note, I have been questioning the estimated 29,000 jobs local leaders say the highway upgrade could create. Gardner says 29,000 direct and indirect jobs could be created if the U of R follows through with its master plan, which calls for adding 4.9 million square feet. That growth would happen over many years. Gardner said the potential for 29,000 is there, but it’s not a firm number.

Potential is the word of the day. Let’s hope Rochester lives up to it.