Office of the Vice President for Global Communications

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Commerce Secretary calls U-M a national model for innovative economic collaboration

President Mary Sue Coleman named co-chair of a new National Advisory Council on Innovation and Entrepreneurship


U.S. Commerce Secretary Gary Locke said Tuesday that U-M’s innovative economic development initiatives serve as models for other universities and communities nationwide.

Locke delivered the keynote address at a forum that brought several top Obama administration officials together with about 100 university administrators, faculty researchers, and business and economic development leaders from across the region — as well as a few students — for a daylong session at the Michigan League.

  U.S. Commerce Secretary Gary Locke spoke at a U-M forum Tuesday about innovation, economic development, job creation. (Photo by Scott Galvin, U-M Photo Services)

The topic was the role of universities in innovation, economic development, job creation and the commercialization of federally funded research. The event was one of four the U.S. Department of Commerce is hosting at universities across the country this summer.

“Certain universities, like the University of Michigan, have obviously hit upon a very successful approach,” Locke said. “That’s why we’re having this forum here at the University of Michigan, because you do such a good job of commercialization.”

Locke cited U-M’s Samuel Zell & Robert H. Lurie Institute for Entrepreneurial Studies, the College of Engineering’s Center for Entrepreneurship, the Medical Innovation Center, the Business Engagement Center and the University Research Corridor — a collaboration with Michigan State University and Wayne State University — as examples of initiatives that make U-M “a model for what regional innovation clusters can look like.”

“But how do we scale it up? How do we take the lessons learned here and apply them to communities nationwide?” Locke said. He called on forum participants to help the Department of Commerce “develop a much broader strategy to spur innovation and to enable entrepreneurs to develop breakthrough technologies and dynamic companies.”

Locke also announced Tuesday that U-M President Mary Sue Coleman has been named one of three co-chairs of a new National Advisory Council on Innovation and Entrepreneurship. The advisory council will help the Obama administration develop policies that foster entrepreneurship, and it will identify new ways to take great ideas from the lab to the marketplace to drive economic growth and create jobs.

The other co-chairs are Steve Case, chairman and chief executive officer of Revolution and co-founder of AOL, and Desh Deshpande, chairman of A123 Systems.

“I look forward to sharing our successes and challenges as part of the larger discussion about accelerating our national economy,” Coleman said during a break at the meeting.

Coleman opened Tuesday’s session with remarks that focused on higher education’s critical role as a source of talent and ideas for strengthening the nation’s economy.

“In recent years, as the American economy has undergone a difficult transformation, our university and others have become more aggressive in moving basic research from the laboratory bench to the marketplace for the good of society,” Coleman told the meeting’s invited guests.

“Research universities can be major hubs for entrepreneurial activity and technology innovation, but this environment is not inherent — it must be carefully guided, nurtured and rewarded by leaders. This means embracing entrepreneurship and providing strong models for innovations.”

Last year, U-M researchers disclosed a record 350 new inventions. Royalties from university-developed technologies rose 20 percent during that period, another all-time high.

Coleman’s opening remarks and Locke’s keynote address were followed by a freewheeling discussion including questions and comments from the audience about the role that universities play in fostering innovation and the commercialization of ideas.

Several audience members, including Michael Finney, president and chief executive officer of Ann Arbor SPARK, told Commerce officials that the federal government could help by increasing funding to help entrepreneurs move new ventures into the marketplace. Ann Arbor SPARK is the economic development and marketing organization for greater Ann Arbor.

“We’ve built an ecosystem here that’s starting to take hold, but we need some help,” Finney said.

Travis Sullivan, director of the Commerce Department’s Office of Policy and Strategic Planning, said the Obama administration is considering a proposal that would lower capital gains taxes for investors who help fund risky new ideas.

“How do we take good but risky ideas and get them into the market?” Sullivan asked. “You’ve got to convince folks to come off the sidelines and invest.”

In his keynote address, Locke said that the United States “has simply got to devote more resources to research and development, especially at the federal level.” As a share of gross domestic product, “America’s federal investment in the physical sciences and engineering research — which was often funneled to our universities — has dropped by half since 1970,” he said.

Locke said President Obama’s National Innovation Strategy, announced last year, called for the doubling of budgets at agencies such as the National Science Foundation, so they can better support basic research at the nation’s universities. And the president’s 2011 budget — while freezing domestic discretionary spending overall — increases funding for civilian research and development by $3.7 billion, a boost of nearly 6 percent, Locke said.

Other Obama administration officials who attended the U-M innovation forum were: David Kappos, undersecretary of commerce for intellectual property and director of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office; Rebecca Blank, undersecretary of commerce for economic affairs; and Aneesh Chopra, chief technology officer and associate director for technology at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.

“We’re hearing from the very top that what we’re doing is something that’s important to the nation, as well as to the state, and that’s extremely important and very gratifying,” U-M Vice President for Research Stephen Forrest said during a break at the meeting. “We’ve been working on this topic for long enough that people across the nation are taking notice, and that will help us greatly as we move ahead with our own mission.”