Office of the Vice President for Global Communications

Friday, November 11, 2011

First statewide network for university-business engagement to launch

A collaboration involving Michigan's six leading research universities creates the first statewide university network in the country to provide such a critical tool for business growth and attraction.

"Academia's role in the economy is rapidly changing," says Daryl Weinert, program principal investigator and executive director of U-M's Business Engagement Center. "It's critical that we recognize businesses as clients and be responsive to their needs. The Michigan Corporate Relations Network (M-CRN) will create partnerships that will connect industry to critical university assets that can contribute to their growth and productivity and, at the same time, enhance the teaching and research at our universities."

Six of the 15 public universities in Michigan — U-M, UM-Dearborn, Michigan State University, Michigan Technological University, Wayne State University and Western Michigan University — were chosen because of the broad research and geographic footprint they represent. Collectively, they represent more than $1.8 billion of research expenditures, which is 98 percent of the academic research done in Michigan in 2009; 99 percent of all patent activity among Michigan universities; and more than 160,000 students across the state.

"Michigan is one of the top states in the nation for research and development with more than $16 billion in industrial R&D and close to $2 billion in university research," says Michigan Strategic Fund Chairman Michael Finney, president and CEO of the Michigan Economic Development Corp. "Companies like Google, Facebook and Dell were born on college campuses and we want to keep helping our leading universities turn the latest developments into jobs."

The M-CRN will use more than $1.8 million from the MEDC and the Michigan Strategic Fund Board. The overall program funding will exceed $3 million after realizing an industry match of more than $1 million.

The six programs include:

• Establishment or enhancement of business engagement offices. This will create the first statewide university-business engagement network in the country. The existing business engagement offices at MSU (Business-CONNECT), U-M (Business Engagement Center) and WSU (Front Door) have proved critically important resources for businesses in navigating university offices. Businesses and economic development agencies across Michigan leverage these "one-stop shops" to gain access to university research expertise and student talent. By supporting the formation of similar business interface offices at Michigan Tech, WMU and UM-Dearborn, this six-school network will magnify the value and impact for businesses across the state.

• Creation of a Small Company Innovation Program (SCIP). The SCIP will help companies partner with universities for applied research and development of identified technologies. The SCIP will provide Michigan small businesses access to matching funding to engage the M-CRN partner universities on company-specific research projects.

• Creation of a Small Company Internship Award program (SCIA). To encourage student job placements with innovative and dynamic company partners within Michigan, the SCIA program will provide funding for students to work as summer interns or in cooperative positions with corporate partners on projects that are both beneficial to the company and academically relevant to the student. The SCIA program is targeted at small Michigan businesses in the science, technology, engineering and math — or STEM — fields where significant innovation can occur.

• Creation of a business portal. One of the greatest assets that universities possess is talented faculty and researchers. The business portal will provide the private sector with a single-point-of-access Web tool for searching faculty expertise across the M-CRN universities.  

• Increased access to university library resources. Access to a major research library's collection of journals, periodicals and books is an invaluable resource. This program reduces the cost barrier to library resources for small companies in Michigan and will connect companies to the Michigan Information Transfer Source program at the U-M Library System, one of only five university library systems nationally to offer electronic desktop delivery of information resources.

• Creation of an Instant Innovation Program. The Instant Innovation Program brings faculty experts from the universities together with Michigan companies to tackle significant business and research challenges identified by the companies in a daylong, facilitated brainstorming session. The goal is to foster creative, unique approaches to solving fundamental technology and process challenges.