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New contest hopes to increase new business innovation

By Ian Dillingham, Daily News Editor
Published February 10, 2014

Entrepreneurialism could mean big bucks for some students — even before their companies are off the ground.

As students at the University work to create a new entrepreneurial climate on campus though organizations such as MPowered, the Michigan Collegiate Innovation Prize aims to encourage similar endeavors across the state. This contest, which will award $90,000 in prize money on Friday, will offer students financial and academic resources to pursue a variety of business ventures.

“This is a way to keep Michigan talent in the state,” said Contest Director Amy Klinke, associate director of corporate relations at the University’s Center for Entrepreneurship in a press release.

Teams of college students from 16 institutions of higher education across the state were interviewed before judges selected the 23 finalists that will receive prize money. Judges made evaluations, in part, based on the demand for such technology in the marketplace and how the teams distinguished themselves from competitors, according to the press release.

On top of financial support, contest winners will receive access to curricula produced by the National Science Foundation’s Innovation Corps. The seven-week program, which is being offered to undergraduates for the first time, will provide students with business skills necessary to develop and market their innovative ideas.

Several of the projects focus on areas of medical technology. Such programs include Safe Sense, a head impact sensor designed for use in football safety; iSuture, a surgical suture simulator and Savant, a program that could help doctors better use DNA data to diagnose patients.

Another project, Carbon Cash, will allow users to better track their environmental impact and promote energy efficiency.

According to a 2012 report by Global Entrepreneurship Monitor, a London-based organization that produces annual international economic reports, entrepreneurial activity in the U.S. is at its highest point since the beginning of the survey in 1999.

However, a recently published five-year study found that the University Research Corridor — a research alliance between the University, Michigan State University and Wayne State University — was not competitive with other similar university clusters nationwide when examining the number of startups each group was responsible for. The report indicated that the University of Michigan was responsible for 11 of 14 startups in the URC.

Ken Nisbet, associate vice president for research at the University’s Technology Transfer Office, said economic factors in Michigan may have contributed more to the lack of startups than a lack of innovation.

“When you start a company, you don't do it in a vacuum,” Klinke said. “We’re connecting students to local mentors and venture capitalists and engaging them in the Michigan entrepreneurial ecosystem. The hope is many will stay due to the roots they're growing through this program.”

Last July, University President Mary Sue Coleman addressed the need for students to create an impact on the economic condition of the state, specifically the revitalization of Detroit.

“We all know that there’s a lot of work to do, but right now, it’s more important than ever to recognize the powerful, youthful energy that we feel has real momentum in Detroit,” Coleman said.

Detroit revitalization was also cited as a key component in the decision to move this year’s MHacks to Detroit, event organizers said. The event drew about 1,200 students to the city for a 36-hour programming competition, allowing companies to showcase technological resurgence occurring in the city.

Final prize announcements will be made this Friday at 2 p.m. at the Stamps Auditorium.


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