“When I was eight years old, I told my grandmother I was going to get a Ph.D. in microbiology,” said Stacey Patterson, vice president for research, outreach and economic development at the University of Tennessee System and president of the UT Research Foundation (UTRF). “It’s lucky I fell in love with science and research.”
This month, UTRF bid farewell to its innovative and beloved leader. After more than a decade and a half at UTRF and the university, Patterson left her joint position to assume the role of vice president for research at Florida State University. UTRF wishes her the best and is grateful for her years of leadership and remarkable influence.
“Stacey has been an invaluable member of my leadership team and has provided great leadership during her 16 years with UT,” UT System President Randy Boyd said. “Under her leadership, UTRF has done an amazing job developing regional research and entrepreneurial growth as well as technology commercialization. Her innovative thinking has brought great partnerships like Techstars to fruition and has been the foundation for countless statewide initiatives.”
Patterson completed her bachelor’s degree in biological sciences at UT Knoxville (UTK), a master’s degree in environmental health from East Tennessee State University and a doctorate in microbiology from UTK – just as she had told her grandmother she would years before. Following graduation, she accepted a post-doctoral fellowship at the University of South Florida (USF).
“I was very fortunate to work in a laboratory where there were a lot of inventions and commercialization of technology,” Patterson said. “When I went to USF, I worked with the tech transfer office as an inventor. The director told me I was a natural at negotiating licenses and asked me if I had considered pursuing tech transfer as a career.”
In 2006, Patterson arrived at UTRF as a licensing associate, while also working as a research scientist at UTK’s Center for Environmental Biotechnology (CEB). While in this research position at CEB, she helped co-found 490 Biotech, a Knoxville-based startup.
“I believe that this country was built on innovation and entrepreneurship,” Patterson said. “You have to be really brave to be an entrepreneur. Part of what I’ve loved in this role is helping people to believe in themselves.”
During her tenure, Patterson enjoyed working on large-scale statewide projects. Her endeavors include winning a $24 million grant from the National Science Foundation for research infrastructure, securing a $38 million U.S. Department of Energy award, launching the UT-Oak Ridge Innovation Institute and overseeing the growth of the Institute for Advanced Composites Manufacturing Innovation (IACMI). She is also proud of helping turn UTRF from a “quiet transfer operation” to the organization it is today.
“Dr. Patterson’s leadership at UTRF has created a legacy of visionary programs that will continue to serve UT and UTRF well into the future,” said Dr. John Hopkins, former CEO of IACMI. “Collectively, this includes more than $500 million of research funding and investment secured, much of it provided through novel collaborations of public and private sources. One prime example is IACMI – The Composites Institute, a national center of excellence for manufacturing innovation, which has served hundreds of industry members since its founding. The region will miss Dr. Patterson as she moves to lead research at FSU.”
“UTRF has grown up in the last 15 years. If I have one accomplishment that I am proud of, it’s the team we’ve been able to recruit into UTRF and the teamwork it has taken to turn it around,” Patterson said. “Today, I think people understand what UTRF does and the importance of that mission for UT and the region. I’m proud of that and the team and all their contributions over the years.”
“During her time as president of the UT Research Foundation, Dr. Patterson has transformed the university’s technology licensing program,” said Mike Paulus, director of Technology Transfer at Oak Ridge National Laboratory and chair of the UTRF Board. “Through her leadership, over the last five years UTRF’s deal flow has tripled, with more than 160 private sector partners licensing or optioning technologies developed at the University of Tennessee. She has also been a passionate advocate for entrepreneurship in Tennessee and a valued and trusted partner with the Oak Ridge National Laboratory.”
Patterson attributes much of her career growth to mentors who supported her and provided opportunities for her to grow. From her master’s advisor who taught her how to be a scientist to her predecessor, the late David Millhorn, she is thankful for each mentor.
“Every step of my career, I have had mentors who have had a real impact on my life and leadership style,” Patterson said. “Anyone can and should be a mentor, no matter where you are in the organization. You can mentor and serve as an inspiration to someone. I think that’s important. It’s essential to recognize that, take that opportunity when you can and hopefully lift those around you.”
“I first met Stacey Patterson soon after she was hired as a Licensing Associate with UTRF in 2006,” said Tom Ballard, chief alliance officer at PYA. “Over the years, I have watched her professional growth as she was mentored by the late David Millhorn and assumed increasing responsibilities over the years, initially at UTRF and later more broadly across the research and commercialization space. We wish her well.”