In hopes of spurring more innovation from faculty and researchers, the University is launching the Michigan Venture Center, a “one-stop hub for University of Michigan technology,” according to Jim O’Connell, the associate director for business formation at the University’s Office of Technology Transfer.

The aim of the center is to bring faculty inventors closer to venture capitalists and entrepreneurs who can help them turn their inventions into viable startups.

“The University has a tremendous number of technology opportunities,” O’Connell said. “We have a chance to license those out to big companies that are outside the state, but when there are opportunities to create companies or jobs inside Michigan, we like to do that.”

“We want to make sure those things don’t pass us by,” he added.

O’Connell said that though the center brings together resources that already exist at the University, the move makes the office more “high profile.” That will encourage, he said, faculty inventors to start businesses who might not have considered doing so otherwise.

He added that the center’s goal is to increase the average number of startups in the next five years from nine to 12 a year.

“The first step is to create the thought that this might be a startup as opposed to just another technology, and I guess hopefully get them excited about the opportunity,” O’Connell said. “It’s not like we have a new set of offices or a new building, it’s just a way of focusing and gathering together the resources that were there already.”

Ken Nisbet, executive director of the Office of Technology Transfer, said though the University has been relatively successful at turning inventions into startups, the goal of the center is to increase the “quality and quantity” of those startups.

“We’ve averaged about nine startups a year which is actually equivalent to a school like Stanford,” he said. “We’ve done well, but we knew given the economy, knowing the opportunities that exist within the University we wanted to improve.”

While other colleges like the University of Minnesota already have venture centers, Nisbet said the University of Michigan hopes to bring the concept to a new level.

“Several universities have dedicated units that work on new startups,” he said. “The venture center concept of an integrated set of resources is not totally unique. We’re not unique in what we’re doing, but we’re going to be world-class in how we execute the concept.”

Nisbet said there are currently about 60 or 70 inventions in the pipeline that could be eligible to be licensed to companies.

“Most of our new discoveries would end up being licensed to an existing company,” he said. “Some of these ideas could form a basis of a company. In the end we analyze it to ensure that the idea makes sense for a new business startup.”

O’Connell said if the project has “enough legs” to become a startup, they will put it on a path toward becoming its own business, instead of being licensed to another company.

The whole process — from invention to startup — usually takes about one and a half to two years.

The center will provide inventors with resources throughout the process, like access to venture capitalists — the center has about 200 in its “Rolodex,” according to O’Connell — and mentors in residence, who are local business owners and entrepreneurs with experience with startups.

David Hartmann, who has started three companies of his own, is a mentor in residence. He said his role is to aid faculty inventors by tracking down interested alumni, helping them in the grant-writing process and providing them with other resources that will help them start their companies get off the ground.

Hartmann said he decided to become a mentor in residence because he wanted to find a way to “give back to the community” after he got his third startup off the ground.

“I think the Michigan economy really needs a transformation,” he said. “It’s going though a very difficult time and certainly with the one billion (dollars) in research that we’ve earned and spent last year with the University, there’s got to be more commercial possibilities coming out of that.”

“For me,” he added, “it’s about finding the next bright idea that can replace the Pfizers of the community.”

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