A recent funding renewal will allow two University of Michigan (U-M)-administered programs to continue their mission of supporting collaboration among state universities and spinning off technologies developed at universities into startup businesses.
The Michigan Strategic Fund—an oversight board for the Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC)—approved $1.4 million for the Michigan Corporate Relations Network (MCRN) and $1.26 million for Technology Transfer Talent Network (T3N), funding each program for another year.
"The state continues to fund these programs because they show results," says Stella Wixom, executive director of the U-M Business Engagement Center and principal investigator of the MCRN grant.
MCRN started in 2011 as a collaboration between six state universities but has since expanded to include all 15 state universities, including Wayne State University. T3N, also created in 2011, was started with help from the MEDC to provide talent programs and resources to support the commercialization of university projects.
Talent resources provided by T3N include a fellowship program, a mentors-in-residence program, university post-doctoral fellowships, and a statewide talent resource network.
"These programs touch on three key areas that are integral parts of commercializing technology: business engagement, technology transfer, and research," says Denise Graves, MEDC university relations director. She says the renewed funding will allow both programs to "expand and refine" the work they're doing supporting all 15 public universities across Michigan.
While the focus of both programs is on finding commercial channels for university-created technologies, much of the work they do is about "building relationships," Graves says.
That relationship-building includes setting up mentorship programs and getting interns into small and medium-sized businesses.
Graves says mentors with "deep industry knowledge" are matched with faculty to help them commercialize technology, get first customers and funding, and provide feedback to faculty on what they need to do to make the technologies viable in the marketplace.
Wixom says the state is interested in exposing students to small and medium-sized companies that students might otherwise overlook. The grant money will help students get internships in those smaller companies.
"A lot of those companies are thrilled with the talent and convert those internships to full-time positions, and the students are more interested in staying after having hands-on experience at those companies," Wixom says.
Wixom says it's important to note that the collaborations among state universities to create technology spinoffs is "a really unique offering."
"It makes us competitive in the country in terms of companies locating here," Wixom says. "I've talked to folks in Texas and Mississippi who are trying to emulate this model. The partnerships and support from the state make us attractive and friendly to businesses."
Sarah Rigg is a freelance writer and editor in Ypsilanti Township.