Michigan Trying to Build Its Tech Talent


Technology transfer is a challenge in all but a few locales. New strategies are commonplace. Here’s one from Michigan — a state that I believe will rebound from its historic struggles of recent years.

The $2.4 million Tech Transfer Talent Network includes seven universities and regions with strong research-based technology opportunities or clusters of talent, and in some cases, both. In addition to the University of Michigan (U-M), members are: Wayne State University, Michigan State University, Michigan Technological University, Western Michigan University, Grand Valley State University and Oakland University. Each university is also collaborating with its regional economic development organization to promote increased access to mentors and partnering businesses.

The primary goal of the Tech Transfer Talent Network is to increase the supply of seasoned entrepreneurs and innovators who can lend their expertise to university tech transfer offices. These connections will serve as important bridges to launch technology-based startups or license university inventions to established companies. The program will allow other state universities in the network to share and benefit from the tech transfer resources developed at U-M.

U-M, which had 101 licensing agreements and spun out 11 startups in 2011, consistently ranks in the top 10 U.S. universities in tech transfer performance. In the past decade, the Tech Transfer office has helped launch 92 startups from research that originated in faculty labs, and three-quarters of those are located in Michigan.

To enhance its capabilities, U-M has put in place several talent-related initiatives during the past few years. Through the network, U-M will help other universities implement some of these strategies, including:

  • The Catalyst database, which identifies and tracks experienced entrepreneurs who are willing to serve as experts, mentors, consultants or even co-founders.

  • Mentors-in-Residence, experienced entrepreneurs who work within Tech Transfer for 12- to 18-month rotations, helping to assess new opportunities and mentor new start-up ventures.

  • Tech Transfer Fellows, a program that employs graduate students or other qualified personnel to help assess technology and analyze markets for tech transfer opportunities.

  • A postdoctoral fellowship program to support graduate students and postdoctoral researchers to encourage them to continue within a newly licensed business or a new startup venture.

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