Coleman leads U-M with innovative spirit
At a time when the university is launching a master’s degree in entrepreneurship and investing in university-based startup companies, President Mary Sue Coleman is taking center stage as a champion for innovation and entrepreneurship.
Coleman has shared her vision for the university on a global scale; in a month’s span she will have spoken on entrepreneurship and creativity in at least six engagements — including an upcoming interview with National Public Radio and stops in Washington, D.C., along with numerous local appearances.
“Michigan has long been at the forefront of the social sciences, engineering, medicine and more,” Coleman said at her Oct. 5 breakfast with campus leaders. “Entrepreneurship must now be among our accomplishments. To continue being leaders, we must galvanize innovation across our campuses.”
Coleman is able to advocate for innovative thinking and entrepreneurial activities at U-M and in higher education through several national platforms. She is chair of the Association of American Universities, which represents the country’s leading research universities. She also is co-chair of the National Advisory Council on Innovation and Entrepreneurship, a position she was named to by Commerce Secretary Gary Locke. And she joined President Obama earlier this year for the launch of the national Advanced Manufacturing Partnership (AMP). U-M is one of six universities involved in AMP, and this month will host a meeting of the partnership (see related story).
Most recently, Coleman announced the Michigan Investment in New Technology Startups (MINTS) initiative. MINTS will allow U-M for the first time to directly invest up to $25 million in faculty startup businesses during the next decade.
This, along with launching the Third Century Initiative — a $50 million commitment over the next five years to develop innovative new teaching and scholarship opportunities — has shown that U-M is leading by example. “We want to stimulate innovation and support the most promising ideas from our faculty, students and staff,” Coleman said.
Vice President for Research Stephen Forrest, who also chairs Ann Arbor SPARK, a regional economic development organization, says it is important for U-M to lead and invest in itself.
“This is a big step for the university. A big step. It’s a demanding process. Would investing in our own companies be as economically fruitful as investing in a broad range of investments? After this scrutiny, the answer is yes,” Forrest says. “We do every bit as good. It sends a powerful message to other potential investors that this is a really good place to invest.”
U-M Tech Transfer has helped to launch close to 100 startups during the past decade. In the last few years, five startups have had lucrative exits, including medical device firm HandyLab, which was acquired by New Jersey-based firm BD for $275 million in 2009.
Lycera, a biopharmaceutical company and U-M spinoff, moved to NCRC in June. The company founded by Gary D. Glick, the Werner E. Bachman Professor of Chemistry, focuses on developing small molecule drugs for treating autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis and lupus. The spinoff has closed on $36 million of venture capital financing.
NanoBio Corp., founded in 2000, is a spin-out of the Michigan Nanotechnology Institute for Medicine and Biological Sciences at U-M. The company is headed by Dr. James R. Baker Jr., professor of internal medicine and biomedical engineering; Ruth Dow Doan Professor of Nanotechnology; chief, Allergy Division, Medical School; and director, Michigan Nanotechnology Institute for Medicine and Biological Sciences. NanoBio Corp. products potentially target treatments for cold sores, nail fungus, acne, and cystic fibrosis; and mucosal vaccines against influenza, hepatitis B and RSV. It has $100 million invested in the NanoStat™ technology platform through research grants and equity investments.
Initiatives like Third Century and MINTS indicate U-M’s commitment to innovating as an institution says Thomas Zurbuchen, associate dean of entrepreneurial programs; professor of atmospheric, oceanic and space science; and professor of aerospace engineering, College of Engineering.
“I am not aware of any programs in peer institutions that have the same kind of direction and scope as any of these new initiatives,” Zurbuchen says. “To provide the best entrepreneurial ecosystem for its people, the U-M must itself become entrepreneurial. That’s what MINTS and also key portions of the Third Century initiatives are all about.
“President Coleman has brought entrepreneurship to the forefront of the collective mindset of the university. Through her actions and some critical appointments, she has unleashed a tremendous entrepreneurial potential. Most visitors coming here and seeing the entrepreneurial energy are amazed and surprised by the successes already generated. With this, U-M is becoming one of the entrepreneurial hubs in the U.S.”
From the student-created MPowered group, which seeks to inspire and support the entrepreneurial aspirations of their peers, to numerous academic programs like the Samuel Zell and Robert H. Lurie Institute for Entrepreneurial Studies, U-M remains focused on economic transformation.
Also, the Zell Entrepreneurship and Law (ZEAL) Program's Entrepreneurship Clinic, to be launched in winter 2012, is the first clinical law program focusing exclusively on providing legal assistance to student entrepreneurs campuswide. The clinic will give law students the opportunity to provide greatly needed legal advice and services to student businesses started through or supported by U-M programs.
The innovation infrastructure on campus is vast, and includes the Business Engagement Center, the Technology Transfer Office, the U-M Venture Center and the U-M Venture Accelerator, the TechArb business accelerator for student entrepreneurs, and the North Campus Research Complex, which offers 2 million square feet of space to support growth in U-M’s research and economic development efforts.
Innovation at Michigan is an organic activity, Forrest says.
“President Coleman reminds people that this is an important value of U-M. It’s one of our core values, our core competencies,” he says. “It has an integrative effect on people. We are being recognized across the nation for taking leadership roles in this area.”
U-M’s leadership role in innovation and entrepreneurship inevitably affects its global outreach, Zurbuchen says. “Strong programs in innovation and entrepreneurship are becoming characteristics of universities who want to be considered leaders in the global market space,” he says. “The increasing quality of scope of our programs will surely help us create a competitive edge.”
Forrest says the world’s best universities have a strong foothold in innovation and entrepreneurship.
“If we want to be a top-ranked global player, we have to be there, too. We need to take the route to attract new faculty, great students,” Forrest says. “If they see a vibrant, outreaching university they will be a attracted to it. Companies will come across the globe and we will come to them. It’s a virtuous cycle.”