Getting innovations out of the lab and into the marketplace
As Michigan looks to rebuild its economy and improve its ability to compete in the 21st century, there is an increased emphasis on finding ways to more quickly move innovations out of the research labs and into the marketplace that will translate into new businesses and jobs for the state.
The three Michigan universities classified by the Carnegie Foundation as Very High Research Activity – Michigan State University (MSU), the University of Michigan (U-M), and Wayne State University (WSU) – are leading this charge. Michigan State University and the University of Michigan have recently announced new initiatives that will strengthen programs already in place to turn their school's intellectual capital into viable business enterprises.
, a newly-formed subsidiary of the MSU Foundation, is designed to develop inventions and intellectual property generated from MSU research into businesses that will attract external investment.
"What typically comes from a university is an invention or discovery," says Charles Hasemann, executive director of the MSU Innovation Center, "and that becomes a patent, but a patent isn't a company. You have to put together the business plan and the technology plan, and probably some funding, to move it far enough toward a product to succeed in the market for venture capital funding."
Spartan Innovations is co-located and compliments the work already being done by MSU Technologies: the university's technology transfer office; Business-CONNECT, MSU's portal for engagement with the business community; and The Hatch, a joint program between the Technology Innovation Center (TIC) and MSU designed to provide a creative, co-working environment for MSU undergraduate student entrepreneurs to develop their own business ventures. All are part of the MSU Innovation Center.
Spartan Innovations will provide five key resources to support the launch of sustainable MSU startups:
- University-wide entrepreneurship education that engages the community
- Stipends to support student engagement in startup business planning
- CEO mentors-in-residence to help advise and manage startups
- Access to a network of external new venture investors
- Gap funding to support the earliest stages of MSU product development
"By bringing these diverse resources – business outreach, business commercialization and business creation – into one well-orchestrated effort through the MSU Innovation Center, we feel that we have a very strong program for making the most of MSU's intellectual capital," Hasemann said. "And the real beauty is that this is not only about making money for the university, but it brings real-world experience to our students and faculty, and brings forward innovations that have the ability to change people's lives and increase our country's competitiveness."
Enhancing technology transfer partnerships
U-M consistently ranks in the top 10 of U.S. universities relative to tech transfer performance. In the past decade, its Tech Transfer Office has helped launch 92 startups, with 101 licensing agreements and 11 startups in 2011 alone. Part of the school's success is in its continuous innovation of its processes – creating new ways that make it easier for researchers to commercialize their inventions, as well as for businesses to engage with university expertise and facilities.
In an effort to enhance research partnerships and address industry's need for predictability in business arrangements, U-M recently announced that it will begin offering sponsors the opportunity to negotiate the terms for licensing intellectual property up-front during the initial contracting process for major research projects, rather than waiting until after the IP has been created.
"Our connections with industry are a two-way street, and they are critical to our mission as a research university," says Stephen R. Forrest, vice president for research. "Not only can we help industry meet its fundamental research needs, but working with industry partners on the challenges they face richly informs both our research and educational activities."
Dubbed the Michigan Research Advantage IP Program, the approach applies to research agreements of at least $250,000 annually and spanning a minimum of three years. With the consent of the faculty principal investigator, the sponsors will have the option to negotiate an up-front negotiated license for intellectual property that may arise under the research contract.
The new approach is among the changes implemented under the auspices of a broader Michigan Research Advantage Program created to facilitate and expand ties to industry. The university's Office of Research and Sponsored Projects (ORSP) – the group that negotiates research contracts – is now reviewing and refining its processes to provide faster, more responsive service for industry and other partners. To lead this effort, the office has recently announced the appointment of Daryl Weinert to the newly created position of associate vice president for research – sponsored programs, reporting to Forrest.
"The continuing growth in the volume and complexity of our research enterprise now warrants the full attention of a senior leader, and I have great confidence in Daryl Weinert's ability to guide ORSP through the challenges ahead," Forrest says.
Just five years ago, U-M launched the Business Engagement Center as a "front door" for companies seeking access to university expertise and other resources. The BEC now maintains relationships with more than 1,000 companies and is contacted by nearly 200 new companies each year.