University Programs Drive Michigan’s Entrepreneurship and Innovation Research

Courtney Overbey

Monday, October 25, 2021

Michigan’s universities and research institutions contribute to the state’s entrepreneurial spirit and innovation through unequaled collaboration with hospitals, research centers, service providers, and venture capital professionals throughout the state.

The Michigan Economic Development Corporation’s Entrepreneurship and Innovation team connects high-tech entrepreneurs, small businesses and researchers with university programs that provide early commercialization tools to those looking to start and grow their own businesses in Michigan.

These programs have three primary objectives:

  1. To increase translational research activities
  2. To provide mentorship support and engagement
  3. To match gap funding resources within key technical areas

Entrepreneurs across Michigan—from Detroit to the Upper Peninsula and everywhere in between—have experienced business and professional growth because of the MEDC’s university programs and team of experts.

For example, the Michigan Translational Research and Commercialization (MTRAC) Program has supported over 220 projects, creating more than 35 startups and attracting over $164 million in follow-on funding since 2016. Launched in 2012, the MTRAC program was created to accelerate the transfer of new technologies from Michigan’s institutions of higher learning to commercialization. These institutions include innovation hubs at Michigan State University Agri Bio, University of Michigan Life Sciences, University of Michigan Advanced Transportation, Michigan Technological University Advanced Materials and Wayne State University Advanced Computing.

Supporting innovation at the university level encourages highly skilled talent and tech production from Michigan’s esteemed educational systems. In 2020, the MTRAC’s Innovation Hub for Advanced Computing awarded Wayne State University a combined $270,000 in funding for three research projects focusing on early-stage deep tech opportunities like augmented reality, artificial intelligence and intelligent automation.

Deep tech is a high-impact industry helping to secure Michigan as a frontrunner in technology innovation, and it starts at the university level. The Technology Transfer Talent Network (T3N) provides mentorship, a critical component to the success of university projects. The T3N has 25 expert resources in key industries among a network of state universities. These experts share their real-world experiences of bringing innovation to market, supporting entrepreneurial faculty and protecting intellectual property.

By collaborating with Michigan’s research universities, MEDC’s Entrepreneurship and Innovation programs like T3N help foster an entrepreneurial spirit and support Michigan’s presence in the tech industry. Houghton-based Orbion Space Technology utilized the T3N’s Mentors-in-Residence program, as well as the local MTEC SmartZone, to identify new funding opportunities. This partnership helped Orbion go on to raise $30 million in combined Series A and Series B venture capital funding and receive a U.S. Air Force contract to enhance the resiliency of U.S. systems in space.

Those at the university level, whether students or faculty members, can also tap MEDC’s Early-Stage Proof of Concept Fund, which supports the commercialization of technology and attracts world-class talent, researchers and entrepreneurs. This program provides matching funds for those with early-stage technologies at Michigan universities and helps graduates, PhD students, faculty and others achieve start-up milestones like proof-of-concept or market opportunity validation.

Universities are critical to Michigan’s entrepreneurial ecosystem. If you’re not sure where to start, visit to discover programs and funding opportunities available to help you begin your entrepreneurial journey.

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