May 16, 2010/Crain's Detroit Business
$200M drive to fund recruiting, research
By Ryan Beene AND Tom Henderson
The University of Michigan is shifting into high gear the transformation of its North Campus Research Complex into the central hub of the university's research and commercialization activities.
The goal is to double UM's $1 billion in annual research spending in 10 years and increase the number of startup companies and for-profit jobs created by commercializing university-developed technologies.
Dr. Ora Hirsch Pescovitz, CEO of the University of Michigan Health System, told a group of venture capitalists and entrepreneurs last Tuesday at the annual Michigan Growth Capital Symposium in Ypsilanti that the university will need about $200 million to recruit new faculty researchers, finance new multidisciplinary research projects and reopen shuttered lab space at the NCRC to develop the former Pfizer Inc. R&D center that was bought by the university last summer for about $108 million.
She said raising $200 million would involve alumni, private donors and private industry. “We need a lot of help to go after that,” she said.
The site occupies 174 acres, including 29 acres of vacant land, and about 2 million square feet of office and lab space.
“We definitely need resources in order to begin to recruit faculty, buy equipment and finance new programs to begin to fully utilize this space,” Pescovitz told Crain's on Thursday. She said the $200 million would be needed over the next three years.
Pescovitz said near-term plans for the NCRC include moving UM's Office of Technology Transfer, its Business Engagement Center and its recently formed Michigan Venture Center to the NCRC from leased space. She would also like to recruit the annual Growth Capital Symposium, hosted by UM's Stephen M. Ross School of Business, in 2012 from its current home at the Marriott at Eagle Crest.
The Business Engagement Center matches private-sector businesses with university technology and a wide range of business services. The Michigan Venture Center assists entrepreneurs working to spin off companies based on technologies developed at UM. Ken Nisbet, executive director of UM's technology transfer office, said the intent is for the NCRC to be the central hub for all of the university's private sector, technology transfer, spin-off and venture activities. He said he hopes to complete the transition of the venture center into the NCRC within a year. If successful, the upshot is a potential 20 percent to 30 percent increase in the number of companies created at the university every year.
Preliminary plans are to secure about 10,000 square feet within the former Pfizer facility to expand the footprint and services of the Michigan Venture Center to include a larger-scale business accelerator, Nisbet said.
“We were doing really well with launching companies as part of our tech transfer mission, and we're well within the top 10 (universities producing tech-based spinoffs), but we looked how we can do more at the NCRC as an opportunity to expand and enhance our venture center.”
The proposed accelerator would expand the school's relationship with the venture community by housing entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, angel investors, UM mentors-in-residence and others involved with the creation of startups based on technologies developed at the university, Nisbet said.
Expanding the venture center could also allow the tech transfer office to expand its services into later stages of company development, enhancing the quality of university spinoffs, Nisbet said.
“Traditionally, once we get close to the option and license stage, we're normally trying to get outsiders to do more,” he said. “But with this accelerator facility, our support will extend even further.”
Pescovitz told the gathering at the Growth Capital Symposium that the complex will provide research facilities not just for university scientists but for government and private-sector scientists as part of the university mission to create jobs through partnerships and collaboration with the private sector.
“We have the opportunity for the first time to have technology users working alongside technology inventors. All that mixing it up will lead to an acceleration of discovery and creativity. It's a revolution we're talking about, exponential instead of incremental,” she told the crowd. “We'll no longer have academic silos. For the state of Michigan, the results will be dramatic.”
Thursday, she followed up on her panel presentation by telling Crain's that combining the users and developers of technologies in a single facility with everyone working together is a driving force in the development of the NCRC.
“In our vision of NCRC, the person who utilizes the technology will be working side by side with the person who is developing the technology,” she said. “You can see how that should result in more rapid development of the technology because the user is going to be informing the developer more rapidly than in any other setting.”
Pescovitz said she hoped the increased activity over the coming months at the research center will make it easier to recruit top researchers.
“You can almost feel the sparks flying,” Pescovitz said.
Pescovitz's comments Tuesday followed UM's announcement Monday that about 20 proposals developed by UM faculty for interdisciplinary research to be conducted at the NCRC had been whittled down to four. A university review team, led by Steven Kunkel, senior associate dean for research, is now assessing the proposals for feasibility and developing a timeline to deploy researchers into currently shuttered labs in the NCRC.
Joan Keiser, interim managing director of the NCRC, said the feasibility assessments for the four research proposals will be conducted over the next six to eight weeks, based in part on the potential to translate the research into commercial or clinical uses, Keiser said.
Keiser declined to discuss specifics of the proposals, but she said the subjects include medical products, energy sustainability and research that could lead to software innovations, among other topics.
Locating these first four research projects in the NCRC could result in a 30 percent to 40 percent occupancy of the NCRC's wet lab space in two to three years, she said.
Ryan Beene: (313) 446-0315, firstname.lastname@example.org
Tom Henderson: (313) 446-0337, email@example.com
The University of Michigan plans to recruit new faculty researchers, finance new research and reopen shuttered lab space at the former Pfizer Inc. R&D center it bought last summer for about $108 million.