Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Model the Practice

Colleges step up to aid Mich. economy

15 schools to back 200 firms


In what could be a key boost to Michigan's economy, the state's 15 public universities plan to announce today a new effort to create 200 start-up companies over the next decade.

The Michigan Initiative for Innovation & Entrepreneurship aims to award $75 million in entrepreneurship grants over the next seven years. The money will help speed the development of new ventures created at the schools as well as support entrepreneurial education and internship programs.

"We expect to create companies and also benefit companies with the resources of the institutions," said James Baker, director of Michigan Technological University's Office of Technology and Economic Development. "It is very unique and very ambitious."

The initiative, which was led by top administrators at the University of Michigan, reflects the bigger role that the state's public universities hope to play in reviving Michigan's ailing economy.
With the auto industry employing fewer people, Michiganders' interest in starting businesses has soared. Universities have discovered they can help contribute to this entrepreneurial environment by working more cooperatively with local companies and transferring more of their technology to the real world.

The new effort takes this idea a step further by combining the resources and creativity of each school. "We can be more effective collectively," Baker said.

To kick off the effort, the schools today plan to announce $1.3 million in grants to 20 research projects and educational programs at 13 of the universities.

One grant for $100,000 will go toward a new commercialization center at Wayne State University's Center for Molecular Medicine and Genetics.

"The challenge Wayne State and other universities face is to push more new research out into the commercial world faster to create new jobs and industries," said Randal Charlton, director of WSU's TechTown business incubator.

Committees with representatives from both academia and business chose the grant recipients from among 39 applicants. The money came from the C.S. Mott Foundation, but recipients also have raised a total of $2.2 million from both universities and businesses.

More grants will be awarded this fall using additional money from the Mott foundation, Baker said. But the universities will need to raise more money, primarily from other foundations, for other distributions in 2009 and future years.

Only public universities can apply for the grants, but they can team up with entrepreneurs and others.

Baker said the effort eventually will replace the Michigan Universities Commercialization Initiative, which has invested $6 million in research projects and created 27 new businesses.

Contact KATHERINE YUNG at 313-222-8763 or

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