The University of Michigan’s tech transfer office will lead a new two-year, $2.4 million initiative to help state universities take advantage of local entrepreneurs and innovators in an effort to commercialize university technology.
The Michigan Economic Development Corporation is funding the Tech Transfer Talent Network, and other member universities are Wayne State University, Michigan State University, Michigan Technological University, Western Michigan University, Grand Valley State University, and Oakland University. Local economic development offices will also work with the universities to provide mentors and businesses who can partner with startups to help guide them toward viability.
Nisbet says the main goal of the program is to connect seasoned entrepreneurs with university tech transfer offices as they strive to launch startups or license university technology to established companies. Establishing a multi-university network, Nisbet adds, allows state universities to share resources, identify talent, and learn from one another’s commercialization strategies.
“It’s a way to match an entrepreneur’s expertise to an inventor or technology being developed,” Nisbet says, adding that oftentimes, the entrepreneur is located out-of-state. “It’s a way to bring people in who have market experience that’s not often found in the Midwest.”
The University of Michigan is leading the effort because it already is among the top 10 universities in the nation in terms of tech transfer performance. U-M signed 101 licensing agreements and spun out 11 startups in 2011. In the past decade, the tech transfer office has helped launch 92 startups, three-quarters of which are in Michigan, from research that originated in university labs.
Nisbet says that U-M will assist member universities in implementing some of their more successful commercialization strategies, including a database to track and identify experienced entrepreneurs who are willing to serve as mentors or co-founders; a Mentors-In-Residence program, which embeds entrepreneurs inside tech transfer offices so they can assess new opportunities, offer unbiased advice, and guide new startups; a fellowship program that employs graduate students to analyze markets for tech transfer opportunities; and a postdoctoral fellowship program that encourages graduate students and postdoc researchers to continue working in a new startup venture.
“The Mentor-In-Residence program is sort of the keystone of the network,” Nisbet says, explaining that it’s a way to utilize the talents of experienced entrepreneurs who are perhaps between jobs. “Maybe they’re part of a startup that just got bought out and they’re waiting for their next gig. Since it’s a rotation and not a job, it’s a great way to keep talent in Michigan as they figure out what they want to do next.”
Though much of the Tech Transfer Talent Network’s programs were developed at U-M, Nisbet says the university has plenty to gain from being a part of the network. “It’s a way of giving back—we’ve been blessed with luck and resources, and we want to share that. It helps raise the attention on entrepreneurial efforts throughout the state.”