Network to connect public universities with businesses

By Adam Rubenfire, Daily Staff Reporter
Published November 10, 2011

Several public universities in Michigan are joining forces with businesses across the state in a new collaborative association.

Six public universities, including the University of Michigan Ann Arbor and Dearborn campuses, have joined together to create the Michigan Corporate Relations Network — an effort that will connect industry leaders with academic talent at state universities. The universities were selected because of the widespread research conducted at the intuitions and the diverse geographic backgrounds of the students and faculty.

In the 2011 fiscal year, the University spent $1.24 billion on research — an 8.5-percent increase from the previous year.

The network will receive $1.8 million in funding from the Michigan Economic Development Corporation, and the Michigan Strategic Fund Board, organizations that promote economic growth in Michigan. The goals of the network include creating or further developing business engagement offices at the institutions, establishing an online search function for private businesses to find faculty to aid in corporate research and expanding small businesses’ access to university libraries.

Michael Finney, Michigan Strategic Fund chairman and CEO of the MEDC said that the network will help foster turning more campus innovations into success.

"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," said Finney, former Ann Arbor SPARK CEO, in a Nov. 10 University press release. "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."

Daryl Weinert, executive director of the University’s Business Engagement Center, said the network allows the University to put a larger focus on relationships between business and academia.

“We benefit in … getting this network of offices that really can take forward more comprehensive and really beneficial relationships between University and then academia around the state,” Weinert said. “That’s going to be good for the whole state of Michigan, which is certainly good for the University of Michigan.”

Weinert added that the University has been at the forefront of corporate engagement.

“(It’s) partly a testament to the fact that the University of Michigan has shown the leadership on this front, and it’s very fulfilling to see that taken forward to additional institutions across the state,” Weinert said.

Charles Hasemann, executive director of Business-CONNECT, the business engagement office at Michigan State University, said the network is especially beneficial to the University of Michigan-Dearborn, Michigan Technological University and Western Michigan University because these schools didn’t previously have business development offices. Wayne State University is also involved in the collaboration.

“It will be a really nice tool for connecting — in a really cool and informative way — what is it that we have at the universities both in terms of faculty and just resources,” Hasemann said.

He added that the network’s focus on small businesses is important.

“One of the hallmarks of small companies is that they don’t have a lot of money. They’re trying to make their way,” Hasemann said. “While they would love to work with a university, when they don’t have deep pockets that’s hard, so this money will subsidize that relationship.”

The network also includes three programs — the Small Company Innovation Program, the Small Company Internship Award program and the Instant Innovation Program. The first program is designed to help small businesses develop technologies with members of the universities. The second program will provide compensation for students to intern or work with small businesses in the STEM — science, technology, engineering and math — areas. The third program will partner university faculty with businesses to solve various problems the companies face.

Hasemann explained that the entire state will benefit from the collaborative work of the businesses and universities involved in the project.

“I think it helps us be more relevant as we do work that helps advance commerce and helps us be a part of the solutions in making Michigan a more competitive and successful state,” Hasemann said.