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Updated 2:46 PM May 18, 2009
 

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Economic innovation promoted at forum

The university is reaching out as it delves into a new kind of manufacturing — welding knowledge-based innovation with partnerships that can yield seismic economic impact.

On May 11 U-M hosted 300 people from business, industry and state government to exchange ideas about how the university can leverage its research-and-development expertise to strengthen local, state and national economies and keep its graduates in Michigan.
Vice President for Research Stephen Forrest addresses the town hall forum on economic innovation and partnerships. (Photo by Lin Jones, U-M Photo Services)

"Partnership for an Innovation Economy" was one of a series of town hall forums the university frames as an ongoing discussion about growing a business-friendly environment on campus and about embracing a different way of doing business.

"We need to generate a culture of risk and make education and investment in entrepreneurship a priority," said Stephen Forrest, vice president for research, whose office co-hosted the event. "We are creating that feeling of risk and excitement and drive, and I think it will also keep our students here."

The forum was in the U-M Museum of Art — a bow to strong cultural and quality-of-life threads running through Michigan's business tapestry. Another 125 joined the group for a reception in the new galleries.

Making worlds collide — entrepreneurship, research, business, regulation — and finding new ways to examine opportunities like the anticipated possible purchase of the Pfizer laboratories formed the forum's theme of trying new things, and asking the commercial sector to join it.

Daryl Weinert, executive director of the Business Engagement Center, said the 200 new relationships forged with companies in this fiscal year range from garage entrepreneurs to Fortune 500 firms and present challenges to learn how to maximize business relationships across the spectrum.

Two panels discussed steps the university is taking to increase partnership opportunities with industry and ways those already on the commercial side think U-M can play a greater role in economic recovery.

Maria Thompson, a U-M graduate turned entrepreneur as A123Systems general manager of the Advanced Research and Government Solutions Group, talked about building a community of entrepreneurship — from creating a "one-stop shop" environment for academics branching out to commercialization to nurturing networking to share the tricks of trade in campus success stories.

"We've seen a lot of changes in the university since the 1990s," Thompson said. "Paperwork moves faster, contracts come together quicker and we can reach out to industry connections for help. That's what's working about the U-M. You can find the right people who know how to get stuff done."

Edward Krause, external alliances manager for Ford Motor Co., praised the relationships U-M and Ford have forged, and proposed taking it further — involving industry more in the hiring and tenuring of faculty, developing sabbaticals in industry ventures and giving research in industry a greater role the tenure process.

The forum was hosted by Office of the Vice President for Research, Office of Technology Transfer and the business Engagement Center. The reception was hosted by OVPR and the Michigan Business Review and sponsored by National City.

The forum also served as a launching pad for the university's new Web site, www.innovationeconomy.umich.edu, a portal for economic innovation and impact.

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