A Conversation on Leveraging University Innovation to Propel Michigan's Startup Ecosystem

Erin Cornett

Thursday, February 24, 2022

Learn how Michigan’s research universities help drive economic growth and diversification across the state by supporting the commercialization of new research discoveries and technologies.

MEDC’s University Relations Director Denise Graves joins the University of Michigan’s Wolverine Caucus for a virtual conversation about how Michigan programs are moving innovation forward by addressing early startup investment challenges and providing resources to streamline technology commercialization support.

Read key insights from the virtual conversation below:

Translational Research Programs Propel Technology into Commercial Markets

When it comes to university translational research programs, the Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC) offers three key initiatives that help faculty researchers access resources, such as programs for matching funds, and get connected with mentors who can provide critical expertise. These programs include: The ADVANCE Early Stage Proof of Concept Fund hosted by Michigan State University, the Michigan Translational Research and Commercialization (MTRAC) program with five innovation hubs at universities across the state, as well as the Tech Transfer Talent Network (T3N) program hosted at U-M.

“The MEDC, through our entrepreneurship and innovation initiative, supports programs for high-tech projects and startups including university translational research and service provider support programs, as well as early-stage capital,” said Denise Graves, University Relations Director, Michigan Economic Development Corporation. “The translational research programs support key initiatives that provide matching funds and mentorship to research teams, helping them to transition their technology from the lab to the market.”

The U-M Research and Innovation Partnerships team hosts two innovation hubs through the MTRAC statewide program, including the Advanced Transportation hub and the Life Sciences innovation hub, allowing it to play a critical role in supporting translational research in these important industries for the state of Michigan.

“Within our office at Innovation Partnerships, we describe our work as being inspired to redefine how world-class university research can both fuel a region and solve the world’s greatest challenges. We want to bring these technologies to the marketplace so that they can go on to become the new therapeutics, the new technologies, the new startup companies that are going to change and improve the world. We also want to do it in ways that bolster the economy of our state and of our region,” said Kelly B Sexton, Associate Vice President, U-M Research and Innovation Partnerships.

Through these programs and resources, Michigan supports a statewide collaborative network with universities, whose faculty and students focus on their journey to bringing technologies to the commercial market.

Combatting the Commercialization Gap with Venture Capital

A challenge Michigan faces is the Commercialization Gap, which refers to the amount of research dollars compared to venture capital in each state. While Michigan has experienced incredible growth over recent years – including an increase in venture dollars from $300 million in 2016 to $3.1 billion in 2020 – Michigan still has a long way to go before it strikes the right balance between research funding and subsequent venture capital support. For example, for every $149 of research, Michigan has $1 of venture capital; in the Midwest it takes startups nearly 2 years longer to raise their first $500,000 to $1 million than it does in ecosystems on the coasts.

“One of the solutions we have come up with at the University of Michigan is the Accelerate Blue Fund. This is a fund we are raising through philanthropy, focused on U-M-IP based startups. We launched it last year with the goal of raising $20 million,” said Michael Psarouthakis, Director of Ventures, Managing Director, Accelerate Blue Fund. “The fund’s strategy is to take early investment risk that the ecosystem is generally not comfortable with in technology startups to accelerate their completion of key business milestones which will enable them to attract venture capital, to stay in the region and get to commercialization success faster.”

Michigan Startups are Driven by Energy and Hustle

The energy and hustle in Michigan startups are undeniable, but to continue their success, companies look for maturity and experience that come with precise hires. MEDC programs and mentor opportunities help level the playing field and benefit companies at all stages and across all experience levels.

“There are a ton of talented people here in Michigan but translating somebody from another industry into a startup is a burden that a startup just can’t take on. Broadening the talent here in Michigan is really important for our industries and ultimately helps us diversify what we are as an economy,” said Braden Robison, Chief Operations Officer, Seraph Biosciences, INC.

To learn more about opportunities for commercializing technologies and moving research and ideas from the university to the marketplace, go to michiganbusiness.org/entrepreneurship.

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