|In Challenging Economic Times, U-M helps Launch 10 New Startup Companies|
By Jim Erickson
U-M helped launch 10 startups last year and licensed 97 innovative technologies to industry, while university researchers reported 290 new inventions. The 97 technology agreements tie a university record set four years ago, according to Tech Transfer. The 10 startups, up from eight the previous year, bring the university’s total over the past decade to 93.
“We’re excited about these results. Launching 93 startups since 2001 places the University of Michigan well within the top 10 U.S. universities in that category,” says Ken Nisbet, executive director of Tech Transfer. Roughly three-quarters of the new businesses are in Michigan, mainly in the greater Ann Arbor area.
“The number of startups and technology agreements is much better than we expected, given the economic climate and continued issues in the marketplace,” Nisbet says. The totals are for fiscal year 2010, which ended June 30.
“It says to me that we’re doing it the right way,” he says. “We start with great technology generated by first-class researchers, then we leverage our team’s expertise to add value to those opportunities, making them attractive to businesses and the venture community.”
Recent U-M inventions and their creators will be highlighted at the annual Celebrate Invention reception, 3-6 p.m. Wednesday at the Michigan League Ballroom. The event recognizes U-M researchers who reported an invention, were awarded a patent or participated in a license agreement in FY 2010.
The latest U-M startups include companies developing: ultrasound devices to shred prostate cancer tumors, new techniques to capture energy from river currents and tides, and wireless sensor networks that monitor and control energy consumption in buildings.
Eight teams of U-M inventors will display their creations at the Celebrate Invention event. They include a team led by Steven Skerlos, associate professor of mechanical engineering, and civil and environmental engineering, that developed an environmentally friendly form of metalworking fluid. Such fluids lubricate and cool metal parts during manufacturing of automobiles and aerospace components, and are used widely in other heavy industries.
Nearly 2 billion gallons of metalworking fluids are used in this country each year. A mix of oil, water and more than 20 other substances — many of them toxic — metalworking fluids pose a threat to worker health and to the environment, Skerlos says. He began studying them more than a decade ago, looking for safer and more effective alternatives.
The solution Skerlos and his colleagues came up with is called CHiP Lube. It uses high-pressure carbon dioxide and vegetable oil to create an industrial lubricant that is non-toxic and renewable. The team is launching Ann Arbor-based Fusion Coolant Systems this year and is currently working with various manufacturers to apply the CHiP Lube system in factory settings.
“To me, entrepreneurship is a form of research,” says Skerlos, who also is chair of graduate education in the Department of Mechanical Engineering. “Entrepreneurship is about looking for real-world problems, finding the solutions then creating marketable products.
“This university backs researchers who are trying to do that,” he says. “With U-M’s strong entrepreneurial culture and U-M Tech Transfer’s expertise, faculty can commercialize their discoveries without giving up their day jobs.”
Skerlos credited funding from the Tech Transfer Gap Fund, the College of Engineering Translational Research Fund and the National Science Foundation with helping his team move its invention beyond the lab and launch Fusion Coolant Systems.
In addition to the accomplishments cited above, U-M researchers filed 153 patent applications last year, and 82 patents (10 more than the previous year) were awarded.
Total Tech Transfer revenues, which include royalties and equity returns, were a record $39.8 million. Royalties increased 16 percent to $17.5 million, while total revenues more than doubled last year’s total of $18.1 million, mainly due to a one-time payment from the FluMist agreement. FluMist, a nasal-spray influenza vaccine, was developed at U-M.
Tech Transfer revenues fuel ongoing reinvestments in research and education.
On Wednesday, the Tech Transfer and the Business Engagement Center will move to the North Campus Research Complex, the former Pfizer research facility purchased by U-M last year. One major project to be pursued there is a “venture accelerator” that will provide office and laboratory space, as well as business services, for U-M startup companies.
Earlier this month, Vice President for Research Stephen Forrest told the Board of Regents that research spending at the university grew 12 percent last fiscal year to $1.14 billion — the second straight year U-M has surpassed the billion-dollar milestone.
“The fact that the total research expenditures rose at such a healthy rate reflects the continued competitiveness of our faculty when it comes to presenting research ideas,” Forrest said.