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Midwest universities form regional innovation alliance with $3.5M award

  • Contact Jane Sugiyama, 734-763-2908 janesugi@umich.edu

Jeff Sakamoto, associate professor of mechanical engineering and material science and engineering, works on his solid state battery technology. Sakamoto went through an I-Corps program. Image credit: Christina OhJeff Sakamoto, associate professor of mechanical engineering and material science and engineering, works on his solid state battery technology. Sakamoto went through an I-Corps program. Image credit: Christina OhANN ARBOR⎯A new four-university alliance will help researchers across the Midwest turn their inventions into marketable products to benefit society.

Supported by a $3.5 million grant from the National Science Foundation's Innovation Corps program, the new alliance establishes the Midwest I-Corps Node. It is led by the University of Michigan Engineering's Center for Entrepreneurship and includes the University of Illinois, Purdue University and the University of Toledo.

Together, these institutions have an annual research budget of $2.6 billion. The universities have sent more than 100 teams to the NSF National I-Corps program and trained more than 400 teams and 1,200 participants throughout the region. The node is designed to form the backbone of a network that educates, supports and connects academic researchers to the entrepreneurial ecosystem across the region.

"The geographic spread, diverse industrial base and scale of the node will help the entire region connect technology, market needs, people and money together in a way that was not previously possible," said Jonathan Fay, Midwest I-Corps Node executive director and U-M Center for Entrepreneurship managing director.

NSF I-Corps program director Lydia McClure is equally enthusiastic about the latest partnership.

"The Midwest Node will undoubtedly provide high quality programming, research and tools for the Midwest region and the nation," McClure said. "This node is an expansion on the successful I-Corps programs at U-M."

To achieve the goal of creating a collaborative network utilizing resources and expertise external to each university, the node will host world-class training programs for scientists and engineers throughout the region. These intensive courses are designed to get scientists and engineers to extend their focus beyond the laboratory. It requires researchers to examine the commercial potential of their technology to avoid building a product that no one wants—which is the No. 1 reason that startups fail.

"Our programs will enable us to build upon our strengths in technology research, as well as bolster our industry partnerships," said Jed Taylor, director of operations at the University of Illinois Technology Entrepreneurship Center. "The projects accelerated by the node will be pipelined into support programs to help mature them to the point of license, partnership or funding to launch a standalone startup."

The Midwest I-Corps Node activates in January 2017 and will be funded for five years. In addition to hosting the National I-Corps program, each university involved will host regional programs at their universities and across their respective states.

"We appreciate the spirit of collaboration demonstrated by U-M CFE's leadership, and it's exciting to be a part of a network that is working to shift the culture of traditional academic research toward impact inspired research in the Midwest," said Matthew Lynall, management professor and deliberate innovation for faculty director at Purdue University's Discovery Park.

Ian Steff, executive vice president and chief innovation officer of the Indiana Economic Development Corporation, also looks forward to the collaborative impact of the Midwest I-Corps Node.

"Leveraging the resources of these outstanding research universities is of great benefit," Steff said. "This exciting program has a great deal of potential to support the Midwest's ecosystem for entrepreneurship in further developing industries of the 21st century."

 

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