Why Technology Transfer is Essential to our Future

Earlier this month, I gave a talk on the implications of health care reform to 200 venture capitalists from across the Midwest. This was an audience of entrepreneurs, business leaders, innovators and investors with the funds to advance cutting edge ideas and product development.

As I stood in front of this impressive and dynamic group talking about the University of Michigan’s success in technology transfer – the process of turning scientific and technological advances into marketable products or services – I found myself re-invigorated by our University’s vast potential to spur the state’s and the region’s economy. We have the ability to create a new industrial identity that builds on Michigan’s historic strength in automotive technologies.

Now is the time to forge innovative paths in health services research, medical device development, drug discovery, battery development and other areas where U-M excels.

As I looked around the room at people from Michigan, Illinois, Ohio, Minnesota, Missouri and elsewhere, I became convinced that the Midwest can give the traditional innovation and technology hubs of the east and west coasts a run for their money, with Michigan leading the way. Consider this:

  • In 2008, there were 55 venture capital firms active in Michigan. Today, there are more than 70.
  • In 2009, Michigan had 62 companies that were funded by local and national venture capital firms. Together, these companies have created nearly 2,000 jobs in this state.
  • Nearly 45% of Michigan’s venture capital backed companies were a result of U-M tech transfer activities.
  • Since 2001, U-M Tech Transfer has spun-off 93 new start-up ventures, a record well within the top 10 of all universities.

While the Michigan economy remains challenged and the road to full recovery is long, the fiscal strength of the University of Michigan and the U-M Health System can help drive the overall state resurgence.

One of the benefits of being a leading research university – and the U-M was recently ranked first in research and development spending among the nation’s public universities and colleges by the National Science Foundation – is the impact we have on the local, national and global economies when discoveries evolve into viable products, services and businesses. Tech transfer makes a case for the business and economic impact of discovery.

Here at U-M, we have the skills and resources to increase the force of our impact and build upon our demonstrated track record in this arena. In fact, several units across our campus focus on encouraging innovation activities and cultivating relationships with the private sector, including the University’s Office of Tech Transfer (OTT), the U-M Business Engagement Center (BEC), the Medical Innovation Center (MIC) and the Medical School’s Business Development Office.

Here’s some evidence of our determination and success:

  • In fiscal year 2010, U-M produced 290 new discoveries – 118 of which came from the  Medical School. We also recorded 97 agreements with industry, including 10 new start-up ventures, and realized a 16 percent increase in license royalties, with total revenues reaching a record $39.8 million.
  • Plans are in motion to create a “Venture Accelerator” at the North Campus Research Complex. This will be space where start-up companies will be housed with convenient access to OTT services and support.
  • Of about 570 entries from around the globe, seven UMHS spinoff companies – Life Magnetics, Compendia Bioscience, ImBio, Vir(Sn), OcuSciences, Armune Bioscience and Hygieia – are among 50 semi-finalists in the Accelerate Michigan Innovation Competition, the world’s largest business plan competition for start-ups. This international contest highlights Michigan as a robust and vibrant venue for innovation and business opportunity, and will hold its three-day conference and awards presentation at NCRC next month with President Coleman offering remarks on the final day.

Our potential is limitless.

What matters now is what we do with that potential; how we leverage our vast resources, build fruitful public-private partnerships and advocate for legislation and policies that support cultivation of vibrant life sciences, green energy and technology industries in Michigan.

At the University of Michigan, we embrace progress and innovation. This will be even more important to our Health System as we aspire to create the future of health care through discovery.

What do you think?